Crime Scenes” is a thoughtful, visually stylish but ultimately underwhelming portrait of forensic cops on the trail of a serial killer. Unfailingly even-handed treatment of sometimes grisly daily procedure, contrasted with the fairly mundane home lives of the two central characters, yields a well-crafted and cinematic pic that’s as sedate as a resting pulse. This debut by Frederic Schoendoerffer, son of vet director Pierre, is too sober to excite much commercial interest outside of French-speaking territories, though fests could bite. Anthony Mann’s terse, riveting “T-Men” did this sort of thing far better over 50 years ago.
Versailles-based investigators Georges Fabian (Charles Berling) and Jean-Louis Gomez (Andre Dussollier) survey the terrain, collect physical evidence and question witnesses and suspects. On the home front, Jean-Louis’ wife leaves him (amicably) mere days after their grown daughter strikes out on her own, and Georges’ schoolteacher wife is pregnant with their first child. That’s all we’re given to go on — except that Georges always bails out his partner when he drinks a bit too much.
A brief-as-a-blink pre-credits glimpse of a bound bleeding woman and a naked man foreshadows the pic’s central search that is launched when Marie, the teen daughter of a couple who own a roadside cafe, vanishes the day after the family dog disappears. Blood — which DNA tests prove to be Marie’s — is found on the pages of a magazine in the cafe lobby. Scent-trained dogs find the pooch buried across the road. Finding Marie — or what’s left of her — will take longer.
When a young white woman and a young black man are discovered in a shallow grave minus their heads and hands, Georges and Jean-Louis think they may have found Marie. Instead they’ve found ritual murders comparable to an unsolved crime in Belgium three years prior. A file search reveals 17 young blond women reported missing since 1993.
As the low-key heroes gather evidence, follow hunches and get lab results, the audience basically watches. There are no histrionics, no run-ins with superiors, no back-stabbing colleagues, not a trace of a grandstanding speech or even a friendly conversation about the meaning of it all — just painstaking work and attention to detail.
A grisly yet matter-of-fact autopsy and a hi-tech search for concealed blood stains lend instructive oomph to a portrait that never breaks a sweat. Razzle-dazzle widescreen camerawork helps matters seem livelier than they are. Unfortunately, the denouement, while plausible, plays as borderline ludicrous.
Berling and Dussollier breathe life into their assignments as essentially serious men of few words. Supporting cast, while convincing, registers mostly as interchangeable spouses, parents, witnesses and survivors.