1970, NR, 96 min. Directed by Paul Vecchiali. Starring Jacques Perrin, Julien Guiomar, Eva Simonet, Paul Barge.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Nov. 17, 2023
The Strangler has been called a slasher, but it is not. It has been called a giallo, an anti-giallo, and even a revisionist giallo. But it is none of those things. Paul Vecchiali's newly restored 1970 crime flick is, instead, a meditation that crawled onto the Left Bank of post-war French philosophical ruminations. It may center on a series of murders enacted by a charming and unhinged young man called Émile (Perrin), but it has more in common with Le Samouraï than Suspiria. Convinced of his own happiness and purity in a world of corruption, he smiles beatifically as he gives women (always women) the "gift" of one last moment of happiness before throttling them with a scarf that he crochets himself.
Like Le Samouraï, The Strangler is about both the cop and the criminal, as Inspector Simon Dangret (Guiomar, Léolo) indulges in unorthodox methods to hunt down the killer. Or maybe not. There's a certain detachment to his investigation, so even when confronted by the killer what results is a pleasant chat. Everyone seems detached, and that's what young Émile – his mind warped from witnessing a murder in childhood, or maybe given purpose – understands. He, of all, is least alone (because who can truly be alone with a dog?) and his murders seem like a kindness, shot with a gentle and dispassionate lens. That is, until we are removed from his behind his eyes, during the brutal attack on a sex worker that reminds us he is the bad guy here.
If there is an analog for The Strangler in slasher cinema, it is probably the horrifying and tragic Maniac, for its willingness to insert the audience into the inner life of a killer. But the game is given away in both its English and French titles, The Strangler/ L'étrangleur, a knowing reference to Albert Camus' existentialist masterpiece The Stranger/L'Étranger. Émile is only interesting to writer/director Vecchiali in as much as he interacts with France's increasingly isolated society, as much as Dangret does, or Anna (Simonet), the woman drawn into their cat-and-cat game, or the aptly named Le Chacal (Barge), the thief who follows Émile and robs the corpses of his victims. As twisted as their interconnectedness is, Vecchiali seems to posit, at least they're not alone.