Originally released to US arthouses under a much more provocative title, RAPE OF INNOCENCE, this French feature initially appears to be a satirical look at that country's materialistic, self-centered petite bourgeoisie. But once director Yves Boisset (THE COP, THE FRENCH CONSPIRACY) has lured unsuspecting viewers into this seemingly lightweight story, he sucker punches us with a deeply unsettling shift -- transforming the film into a grueling vision of bigotry and xenophobia that's even more depressingly relevant today than it was 45 years ago... Jean Carmet stars as Georges Lajoie, who owns a small Paris café where his similarly white, middle-aged, male clientele can routinely bitch about immigrants and longhaired kids. The entire Lajoie family -- Georges, wife Ginette (Ginette Garcin, CHARLES ET LUCIE) and college-age son Léon -- are heading out for their annual seaside holiday in the south of France. Towing a top-of-the-line trailer and reuniting with other regulars at their usual, crowded campgrounds, they all merrily break out the food, drink and casual racism, while gossiping about irritating non-French vacationers. 21-year-old Isabelle Huppert also turns up as Brigitte, the daughter of one of the Lajoie's best friends, who Georges surreptitiously ogles at every opportunity. As these families try to relax on the packed beach and take part in a silly competition between local camps, Georges continually brags about his own success and capriciously throws his money around. But while this pompous schlub is somewhat annoying, he seems relatively harmless... that is, at first. Unfortunately, Georges' true nature unveils itself when, while wandering beyond the campgrounds all by himself, he stumbles upon nude, sunbathing Brigitte and flirts with her. When she bluntly refuses his creepy advances, the situation ends in rape and murder, with Georges dumping her body near a construction site and barracks where several Algerian laborers live. The vacationers' knee-jerk reaction is to blame these "sand-niggers" and seek vengeance in the night, as the true culprit quietly, insidiously stokes this lynch mob's bloodlust... Short, stocky Carmet (who won three Cesars throughout his career, and appeared in such films as Claude Chabrol's VIOLETTE and Jean-Jacques Annaud's BLACK AND WHITE IN COLOR) is astonishing as an outwardly upstanding husband and father, with a dangerous sociopath lurking beneath his genial facade. Jean Bouise (LE DERNIER COMBAT) is also effective as the Police Inspector investigating this shocking crime, whose work is continually impeded by self-serving politicians, hesitant witnesses and his own superiors, who pressure him to blame innocent immigrant workers instead of the guilty "honest French citizens." Littered with moments of disturbing violence that feel all too believable, it's a scathing indictment of everyday racism, mob mentality and a curdled justice system.
© 2020 by Steven Puchalski.