Twentysomething director Cedric Kahn's follow-up to the highly-rated L'Ennui is a thriller about a young Italian who kills his parents, is sent to a mental institution and then escapes. From there cops chase this dangerous con-man across France. En route Succo meets a young girl Lea and the two indulge in a dangerous relationship.
Roberto Succo is a chilling portrayal of a true story and young actor Stefano Cassetti is particularly riveting as Succo, showing how the young man often killed his victims when they backed him into a corner and gave him no other option. Thankfully too, Kahn shows a humourous side to Succo when he shows his continued but bizarre attempts at suicide on a prison roof.
In what way was Succo carrying out his actions like a serial killer? "The police failed to find a motive for Succo’s actions which is what intrigued me and I felt it only right to portray crimes without motivation in the film. The only murder with a motive was that of his parents. Succo is not a serial killer – he does not follow the approach of a serial killer. He’s not out to kill people he just kills people who get in his way. Like a child, without guidance, he has an infantile omnipotence and just wants to get his own way."
Once Kahn’s film had been made, there were demonstrations against it, most notably at Cannes in 2001 where it was first shown. Did Cedric come up against witnesses in making the film who thought making a film like this was exploitative ? "I didn’t come up against anyone who felt I shouldn’t make it," replies Kahn, "but after the film was made, there were protests."
He continues. "In Cannes, a Police union demonstrated because they didn’t like the idea of a film that made a hero of a cop killer. Succo had gained the reputation of being a politicized killer but that wasn’t the case, the man was sick..."
It’s worth pointing out too, that the demonstration was led by people who hadn’t seen the film – had they done so, they would have appreciated that the director was not giving glorification to Succo’s killings, cops, anyone were killed if they got in his way. Police Officers were not singled out specifically.
A film Kahn appreciates is Goodfellas where one moment mobsters are laughing and the next they commit shocking acts of violence. Was the biggest challenge to ensure he did not sanitise or glamourise Succo’s actions?
"I do not set out to glamourise violence. I am wary of the power of cinema so my main concern was not to turn Succo into a hero. There were endearing aspects to Succo – I had to make sure those aspects were not dominant. It would have been easy to turn him into a hero and get the audience to like him, so it was particularly important for me, that I did not take that route. From writing the script, the use of camera angles, even to the use of the music, this was my prime concern. It was important to me that no aspect of the film encouraged or supported the actions he took."
Stefano Cassetti who plays the riveting lead role as Succo was ‘discovered’ quite by chance. He was seen by a friend of the casting director in a restaurant in Paris – approached, it was found he had no acting experience but was Italian. Luckily too, he was interested and from there the transformation began.
Kahn doesn’t know what he’s going to be working on next but he admits he’s aware of a new wave of French directors coming through. "They are all of my generation," he says, "we are close, we know each other, but it might sound absurd, but it's also quite complex because we are all in competition with each other."