A young man arrives in Strasbourg to play amateur gumshoe after his brother’s suicide in “Zero Guilt.” Reasonably well acted and keenly lensed, pic flounders due to a fundamentally silly story featuring enough enigmatic characters to populate a chess board. Awash in a suicidal romanticism that never rings true, pic represents a plateau for helmer/co-scripter Cedric Kahn after the gloomy woman-falls-for-teen drama “Railway Bar” (1991) and the high school hormone opera “Happy, Too Happy” (1994).
Following the same model as Pascale Ferran’s recent “The Age of Potential,” tailor-written screenplay casts 13 third-year students from the conservatory run by the National Theater of Strasbourg. Although thesps all do a decent job with the cards they’ve been dealt, some characters come across more as an excuse to put a student onscreen than as a vital link in the far-fetched proceedings.
The archetypes include a man with a mission, a smart brokenhearted girl to help him, a rugged bartender with inside information, a benign informer on loan from a mental hospital, a clandestine cell of left-wing revolutionaries, a shady character named Raoul and a femme fatale with a death wish.
The actors are nearly all too fresh-faced to have much authority — this kind of yarn needs at least one Thelma Ritter or Robert Mitchum type. Thirteen world-weary 20-year-olds is a bit much.
As the main protagonist asks direct questions and pounds on doors, his morose, attenuated investigation advances in fits and starts. Since all the characters are slightly depressed, the only liveliness to be had is in camera angles and editing, which render the city suitably sinister. Strangely appropriate morsels of syncopated jazz burst in without warning.