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Film / The Crimson Rivers

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The Crimson Rivers, also known as Les rivières pourpres, is a 2000 French police drama film directed by Mathieu Kassovitz and based on the best-selling novel Les rivières pourpres by the film's co-writer Jean-Christophe Grangé.

Detective Superintendent (Commissaire Principal) Pierre Niemans (Jean Reno), a well-known investigator, is sent to the fictional small university town of Guernon in the French Alps to investigate a brutal murder and mutilation; the victim's body had been placed in the fetal position, his eyes removed and his hands cut off. The victim was a senior student of the university. Superintendent Niemans begins his investigation by enlisting the help of Fanny Ferreira (Nadia Farès), who is a glaciologist and a student at the university.

Meanwhile, Detective Inspector (Lieutenant de Police in French) and former car thief Max Kerkerian (Vincent Cassel) is in the nearby town of Sarzac investigating the desecration of the grave of a girl who died in 1982, and the theft of her photos from the local primary school. His first suspects, a gang of skinheads, lead him to Guernon, where his investigation collides with that of Superintendent Niemans. As the plot unfolds, Niemans and Kerkerian notice the startling connections between their cases, and the remainder of the film revolves around their combined efforts to solve the mystery and prevent further bloodshed.

In 2004, a sequel named Crimson Rivers : Angels of The Apocalypse was made, with Jean Reno still being a mentor for a young cop, but with Benoît Magimel taking the place of Vincent Cassel, as Capitaine Reda. It also starred Christopher Lee as the villain.

Has a Spiritual Successor, The Mark of the Angels - Miserere, another Jean-Christophe Grangé adaptation with a similar plot.

The two films contain examples of:

  • Advancing Wall of Doom: The first film has an avalanche for the final showdown. The second film goes with a Giant Wall of Watery Doom instead.
  • An Arm and a Leg: The first film features numerous removed appendages that play an important part in the investigation.
  • Anti-Hero: None of the protagonists in these films are the kind of cops you'd want to deal with in real life. Though generally empathetic and respectful towards witnesses, their brutality and trigger-happiness towards suspects and antagonists calls to mind similar cop flicks from twenty years earlier.
  • Artistic License – Martial Arts: In the first movie, the fight between Kerkerian and the skinheads starts out with your typical spinning kicks and jumps, but when Kerkerian is swarmed by more than one opponent he is forced to retreat to grab a weapon. The brawl also averts Invulnerable Knuckles by showing his bleeding afterwards, even although he didn't even punch a lot.
  • Artistic License – Pharmacology: Amphetamines in the second movie are portrayed as a sort of super serum that works instantly and gives Super-Strength and Super-Speed. While this is roughly what amphetamines do, its effects are significantly exaggerated, especially the bit about it working instantly - in real life, amphetamines work fast, but not that fast.
  • Call-Back: In the second film, Reda commends Niemans for solving that case in the Alps, which is what the first film was about.
  • Compressed Adaptation: Compared to the book. In fact, it's so bad that Vincent Casell is on the record saying that the film is almost impossible to understand because the director cut out all the boring parts, which were all the threads that held the plot together.
  • Concealment Equals Cover: When the Big Bad's goons unleash More Dakka on Niemans and Reda in the second film, hiding behind an overturned metal table is all it takes to shield them from the bullet storm.
  • Cowboy Cop: Both Niemans and Kerkerian don't give much about rules and proper conduct, going so far as to pull their guns on an entire room full of other cops when the latter don't get out of their way fast enough.
  • Diplomatic Immunity: The Big Bad of the second film hides behind his status as a cultural attaché of a fictitious German ministry.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: The Humvee that almost takes out Niemans and Kerkerian via Car Fu near the end of the first film can be spotted when Niemans arrives at the university for the first time, barely five minutes into the film.
  • Elaborate University High: The fictional University of Guernon, one of the oldest such institutions in continental Europe, lies in a remote valley in the French Alps, and has its own hospital (the only one in the area, with maternity ward and a morgue), a sports stadium, a sizeable library, a direct link to the mountains (including a helicopter, a cableway, at least one snowmobile, and a whole mountain rescue section), and the university's dean parctically holds governance of the whole countryside. In fact Guernon are so big, old and remote that they even have their own eugenics programme and inbreeding traditions.
  • Evil Twin: The killer in the first film is the psychotic twin of the investigation's main witness.
  • Extremely Short Time Span: They managed to pack a lot of stuff into only twenty-four hours. It helps that that Nieman's and Kerkerian's adventures largely take place simultaneously.
  • Eye Scream: Several eyeballs are seen in both films.
  • Famed In-Story: Niemans is a legend in the French police, with his past exploits being taught at police academies throughout the nation. Kerkerian is one of the students that learned from his example and positively squees all over him when they first meet. Reda also studied under him.
  • The Film of the Book: The movie is an adaptation of the novel of the same name, whose author is also one of the movie's scenarists).
  • For Science!: The dean of the Guernon university is quick to rationalize all the amoral shit they've been doing for generations as actions in service to science. How much you buy into this is left to the viewer's discretion.
  • Ghostapo: In the sequel, there are some French (Neo-)Nazi monks trying to find a medieval artifact to help them build a new, pure France through an ancient prophecy.
  • Gorn: Both films take obvious pleasure in showing many creative ways to brutalize a human body.
  • Grave Robbing: Max Kerkerian's plot begins with an investigation into a grave robbing attempt in a small village.
  • Gun Twirling: Reda does this briefly before holstering his service piece in the scene where he and Niemans meet for the first time. Considering the positions of the other two people in the room, he had a good chance of hitting either, both and/or himself if the gun had gone off.
  • Irony: In the second film, which once again has Nazis as the antagonists, protagonist Reda is occasionally seen wearing a military-style jacket with a German flag on its shoulders.
  • It Works Better with Bullets: Max Kerkerian, cop, dramatically puts down his gun and badge to goad an aggressive skinhead into a fistfight. "There, no more cop." As the fight starts going badly for him, the skinhead tries to threaten Max with his own gun, only to get his face thoroughly broken. Max then shows him the magazine, which was in his pocket the whole time.
  • I Work Alone: Both Niemans and Kerkerian subscribe to this philosophy. Unsurprisingly, they don't get along too well when forced to work together. The second film drops this part of Niemans' character without much in the way of an explanation.
  • Made of Plasticine: Judging by the photos in her accident report, Judith Herault must've been this. Her body, after having been run over lengthwise by a 30-tons road train, is basically the left third and the right third, separated by a smear of puréed flesh the width of a truck tire. This damage to her body somehow made her impossible to identify although the photos clearly show her hands being intact.
  • Mind Screw: The first film's plot gets increasingly complicated and decreasingly explained as the running time goes on, to the point some of the cast members have gone to say not even they could understand it.
  • Maginot Line: The second film's showdown takes place in a section of it.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: More like A Nazi by exactly this name. Strong parallels between their eugenics ideology and Nazism are explicitly mentioned. The initial antagonists and eventual victims of the first film were this, and the Big Bad was the product of their eugenics program. The bad guys of the second film also march under this banner. Those Wacky Nazis are a running theme throughout many of Grangé's books, almost to the point of Author Appeal, and in the rare case of the antagonists not being Nazis, they're something suspiciously similar instead.
  • Nazi Gold: Sorta, in the sequel. They sure are Nazis, but they're looking for the lost treasure of King Lothair II.
  • Not Enough to Bury: This is said of the young victim of a traffic accident. All that was left to identify her by was her index finger. Subverted in that the finger actually came from another girl. She did get a grave, though.
  • Not Quite Dead: In the first film, after Fanny accidentally unloads a shotgun into her Evil Twin's chest at point-blank range, the latter is presumed dead but still manages to get up again for one last-ditch attempt at taking Kerkerian with her.
  • Noodle Incident: Niemans' fear of dogs.
  • Old Cop, Young Cop: In the first film, Pierre Niemans (old, played by Jean Reno) and Max Kerkerian (young, played by Vincent Cassel). The sequel continues the pattern with Niemans and Reda, the latter of which graduated from police academy eight years before the events of the film and wastes no time making retirement jokes at Niemans' expense.
  • Le Parkour: Wouldn't be a proper French action flick without it, now would it? The first film is fairly light on it, but the second one has multiple elaborate chase sequences of this style.
  • Race Lift: In the book, Kerkerian is called Karim Abdouf and he is of Middle Eastern descent.
  • Red Right Hand: Judith's missing finger.
  • Snow Means Death: Most of the first film's plot is set in a mountainous region with lots of glaciers and snow-covered peaks, and most deaths (especially the posed murder victims) are connected to snow in some way. The final showdown also happens in the snow.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Niemans dies at the end of the novel but survives the movie.
  • Sudden Videogame Moment: A fight scene is overlayed with fight noises from Tekken 3, which the skinhead were playing before the fight started.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Judith was disguised as a boy by her mother to escape persecution.
  • Take That!: In the second film, Niemans tricks a Sinister Minister with a soap replica of the MacGuffin everyone's after, followed by a quip along the lines of "for 2,000 years you've been selling the people nothing but useless crap. Now you know how that feels like."
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Niemans and Kerkerian are both lone wolves, so it's not surprising they have a hard time Working the Same Case. The fact that Niemans is such a legend in the French police that he's part of the teaching material Kerkerian learned from in the academy also results in the former dismissing his younger colleague as an overeager newbie right out of the gate, much to the latter's annoyance.
  • That Came Out Wrong: One of the posher students of Guernon boasts with his uni's average IQ levels. He asks Niemans to guess. His answer? "Twenty-four..." He meant the room number on the door they had just passed.
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else!: Remy Callois and Phillip Sertys, the guys in charge of the Guernon eugenics program, were the university librarian and a nurse at the maternity ward, respectively.
  • Those Two Guys: Kerkerian's two Policiers Nationale.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: The second film gives the Big Bad a cadre of black-clad killer monks whose faces are completely invisible underneath their hoods. No civilian ever reacts to these guys in any way until someone starts shooting, even when the monks are already dragging another civilian down a supermarket aisle, daggers drawn. Granted, there is a monastery nearby whose monks wear similar attire, but those don't act nearly as conspicuously as the villainous ones (and also don't leave their monastery in the first place).
  • Visual Pun: In the sequel, hard to explain, "Hé Jésus, faut rester dans les clous". This is said by a cop, after the police car he was in has run into a man crossing a street out of any crosswalk. This man is dressed like Jesus and Looks Like Jesus. In French, the crosswalk is called a "passage cloûté", which means "nailed way", because cars have to stop when somebody is crossing it, as if it had nails on it. Therefore when you cross a street on a sidewalk, your way stays on the nails, "rester dans les clous". So he's telling Jesus that he should stay on the nails. And it is also a pun as "rester dans les clous" is a metaphor about being honest and not misbehaving. So Jesus should also behave decently and be a good guy.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: Badass veteran cop Niemans is deathly afraid of dogs. Kerkerian wastes no time lampshading and mocking his phobia. The second film shows he's mostly gotten over it and even adopted a dog of his own; a small one, but it's a start.
  • The Worf Effect: Kerkerian is shown as a considerably competent hand-to-hand fighter, but at the end of the film, it inexplicably only takes five seconds for Judith to knock him out. In his defence, the movie drops repeated hints that she's much stronger than a woman of her build has any right to be, so the film is just being consequent in her portrayal.
  • Working the Same Case: Niemans and Kerkerian's investigations end being the same case.
  • Would Hit a Girl: In the first film, Kerkerian doesn't hesitate to sock a female antagonist square in the face. Doesn't work out so well for him, though.
  • You Didn't Ask: After the fight with the skinheads.