Review: ‘The Stranger from Strasbourg’

Aridiculously far-fetched thriller, "The Stranger From Strasbourg" is somewhat amusing as long as it's not taken seriously. But Chilean-born helmer Valeria Sarmiento's latest feature is also fairly forgettable and fails to make its mark either as a whodunit or a psychological drama. This is strictly festival fare at best.

Aridiculously far-fetched thriller, “The Stranger From Strasbourg” is somewhat amusing as long as it’s not taken seriously. But Chilean-born helmer Valeria Sarmiento’s latest feature is also fairly forgettable and fails to make its mark either as a whodunit or a psychological drama. This is strictly festival fare at best.

Convoluted yarn opens with a man coming home to find his wife, Madeleine (Ornella Muti), hanging out with her lover, Jean-Paul (Charles Berling), and the surprisingly calm cuckolded husband suggests a friendly game of Russian roulette with his unfaithful wife. She shoots him in front of her b.f., whom she urges to take off before the cops arrive. Jean-Paul zips off in his car and picks up a hitchhiker, who beats him up and steals his car. Seconds later the car and the hitchhiker explode in a ball of flames, and the police figure Jean-Paul has died in the crash.

If this isn’t bizarre enough, Jean-Paul then wanders into the home of a farmer with a penchant for setting things on fire and eventually makes his way to Strasbourg, where a family mistakes him for the heir to a fortune. Meanwhile, Madeleine is getting it on with Jean-Paul’s brother, Bastien (Johan Leysen), and trying to deal with a detective (Christian Vadim) who is more interested in penning crime novels than solving real-life cases.

It’s all mildly entertaining in an empty way. Sarmiento tries to impose a theme on the proceedings concerning the twists of fate that can change one’s life. “Too many coincidences spoil a thriller,” remarks the novel-writing cop, a phrase that could also serve as a review of the film. The plot becomes downright silly by the end, when the central mysteries are supposedly resolved.

Thesps mostly look uninterested in the goings-on, though Muti provides a modicum of sensual screen presence. Lensing makes good use of eye-catching architecture of Strasbourg, while Jorge Arriagada’s score is classic creepy thriller fare.

The Stranger from Strasbourg

(THRILLER -- FRENCH)

Production

A Gemini Films production. (International sales: Gemini Films, Paris.) Produced by Paulo Branco. Directed by Valeria Sarmiento. Screenplay, Raoul Ruiz, Evelyne Pieiller, Sarmiento.

Crew

Camera (color), Acacio De Almeida; editor, Rodolfo Wedeles; music, Jorge Arriagada. Reviewed at World Film Festival, Montreal (competing), Sept. 4, 1998. Running time: 100 MIN.

With

Madeleine ..... Ornella Muti Jean-Paul ..... Charles Berling Bastien ..... Johan Leysen The Detective ..... Christian Vadim
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