Dir: Gilles Marchand. France. 2003. 126mins
Strip away the veneer of sophisticated film technique and the delusions of artistic merit and Who Killed Bambi' is just another crude scary movie. Best known as the co-writer of the Hitchcockian delight Harry, A Friend Who Is Happy To Help, Gilles Marchand displays an aptitude for generating and sustaining suspense but his directorial debut is badly let down by ludicrous plotting and a heroine who continues to be naive and trusting long after logic and common sense would dictate otherwise. Teetering on the verge of parody at times, Bambi is a doomed attempt to recreate the cold, clammy dread woven into the fabric of the original Vanishing (Spoorloos). It may prove to have more of a hold over genre fans than critics, but this is one European film unlikely to be snapped up for an American remake, as it is exactly the kind of fare that Hollywood already makes by the barrowload. The film premiered with a special screening at Cannes.
Unfolding with calm, poker-faced aplomb, Who Killed Bambi' is largely set within the dazzling white corridors and shadowy private wards of a surprisingly under-populated hospital. Newcomer Sophie Quinton is the suitably doe-like Isabelle, a naive student nurse attached to the surgical unit. As she copes with the stresses of witnessing her first operation and studying, she also develops an inner-ear deformity that causes fainting spells and requires surgery. She begins to attract the attention of the ubiquitous Dr Philipp (Lucas), a dedicated surgeon with an unhealthy interest in his female patients. Philipp is so quickly established as a figure of evil that all he lacks is a drum roll, a waxed moustache and a crack of thunder to signal his every stealthy, sneaky appearance.
It is Philipp who anoints her with the nickname of 'Bambi' and the film tries to establish some kind of beauty and the beast attraction between the naive Isabelle and the murderous doctor that lacks conviction. Faced with increasing evidence of his nefarious activities, her attempts at exposing him are half-hearted at best. Her bizarre refusal to name him to the police is just one of several laughable scenes as the film gradually builds to a puzzling anti-climax.
As implacable as granite, Laurent Lucas' angel of death is just a standard issue psycho with little in the way of motivation or individuality. Quinton shows enough presence to justify her starring role even if some of her character's actions and decisions would defeat even the dramatic abilities of a Meryl Streep. There is a typically vibrant supporting performance from Catherine Jacob as Isabelle's cousin, but Yasmine Belmadi's token role as the loyal boyfriend shifts in and out of focus according to the vagaries of the plot.
In its early stages, Who Killed Bambi' does have a carefully orchestrated atmosphere of almost Lynchian unease. There are hints that we could be experiencing a rattling good damsel in distress nailbiter like the hospital-set Michael Crichton thriller Coma (1978), starring the much more worldly Genevieve Bujold. Such early hopes are soon dashed. Heavy-handed and largely bereft of thrills, Who Killed Bambi' simply doesn't deliver the goods.
Prod co: Haut Et Court/M6
Int'l sales: Celluloid Dreams
Prods: Caroline Benjo, Carole Scotta
Scr: Marchand, Vincent Dietschy
Cinematography: Pierre Milon
Prod des: Laurent Deroo
Ed: Robin Campillo
Music: Doc Mateo, Alex Beaupain, Lily Margot, Francois Eudes
Main cast: Sophie Quinton, Laurent Lucas, Catherine Jacob, Yasmine Belmadi, Michele Moretti