by RIchard von Busack
KIDNAPPING thrillers are mostly dull. The ones that aren't (such as the two versions of The Vanishing and Kurosawa's High and Low) are exceptions that prove the rule. But Lucas Belvaux's Rapt is a prime example of the French thriller as a doctorate class in misanthropology.
Its guilty victim and its remorseless captors are the wedge, splitting the uneasy compromises that hold society together. Rapt is detail-rich, a more class-conscious, authoritative way of telling a crime story than Ransom or the similarly plotted but soft-core Robert Redford vehicle The Clearing.
The dark, hairy and undersized Yvan Attal (My Wife Is an Actress) plays the Parisian businessman Stanislas Graff, chief shareholder in the family financial enterprises. Snatched up, blinded with black ski goggles and shoved into a trunk, he is hauled to a pup tent pitched in a deserted tunnel. After what looks like a short glass of Pernod, his captors cut off his finger with a jackknife and send the digit the family along with a demand for 50 million euros. Graff endures; he's chained, forced to hide his eyes and made to dip his stumped finger in some caustic germicide.
The cops want to play tough, but the family's lawyers, Graff's wife, Francoise (Anne Consigny), and his mother, Marjorie (Francoise Fabian), figure out a way to raise the ransom. Marjorie is notably frosty. The family is seen posed sitting in their living room. Even in private, the mask of politesse doesn't come off. The bland dialogue so standard in procedurals ("All we can do is wait") here accentuates the colder tensions. Smooth, shrewd Alex Decas of 35 Shots of Rum plays the family's attorney, who acts as a go-between.
When it comes time to raise the ransom, the family's finances turn out to be as illusory as the Graff's marital satisfaction. Graff was quite the compartmentalizer. He had a spare apartment for entertaining his girlfriends and had been gambling away huge sums. (The police note that the kind of people who collect gambling debts also collect fingertips from people who can't pay.)
The press finds all this out and surmise what they can't prove. Graff's situation as a society icon and personal friend of the minister of the interior inflames class conflicts. In a line made for 2011, a businessman sums up the political football. After Graff's squandering has been revealed, "How can we justify austerity measures?"
Rapt is very loosely based on the 1978 kidnapping of Baron Edouard-Jean Empain. "Graf," which means "count" in German, is perhaps a reference to Empain's title. (The real Empain came from a colorful family; the grandfather was a self-made railway millionaire, and Empain's baroness mother was a retired burlesque artist, known for her gold-painted cabaret act a la Goldfinger.)
Belgian director Belvaux is not a screw twister. Rapt instead displays the kind of efficiency that still permits discursive New Wave dialogue, the kind of talk that taught Tarantino everything he knows. The men-at-work methods are visible in the action sequences, such as the scene of top-coat-clad gunmen making a money drop at the out-of-season seaside resort Ostend, with its haunted pavilions and peeled paint.
The tension is lifted with a curious and yet plausible sequence. The avuncular Grard Meylan (of Marius and Jeannette) is a benign kidnapper, in contrast to the previous thugs, with a thick graying mustache protruding around the edges of his ski mask. He's a shoulder-patter who likes to talk. (Alone among the people in this film, the Marseilles criminal has a touching sense of Graff's personal honor.)
The deathly coldness of the situation ultimately surfaces: The real crime isn't kidnapping, it's Graff's shattering of the Rules of the Game. What the mother-in-law, Marjorie, tells Francoise is echoed by the kidnappers, who in turn say it of Graff's family when they call the cops as they were forbidden to do.
Eventually, the same five words are behind Francoise's judgment on her kidnapped husband: "You didn't play your part." The interesting, silkily satirical idea at the heart of Rapt is that people at this level of society can bear all kinds of terror. But they can't endure injured pride.