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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.

Contains examples of:

  • Artistic License – Martial Arts: Notably averted in the first movie. The fight between Kerkerian and the skinheads is pretty realistic, averting Invulnerable Knuckles and showing the thugs finally overpowering him by numeric advantage (though actually Max is too smart for them - see It Works Better With Bullets below).
  • Artistic License – Pharmacology: Amphetamines in the second movie are portraited as a sort of super serum that works instantly and gives Super Strength and Super Speed. These effects are somewhat exaggerated, especially the instantly working one - in real life, amphetamines work fast, but not that fast.
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  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Film of the Book: The movie is an adaptation of the same title novel (which author is one of the movie's scenarists).
  • 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.
  • Grave Robbing: Max Kerkerian's plot begins with an investigation about a grave robbing attempt in a small village.
  • 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.
  • 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 were this, and the Big Bad was the product of their Eugenics program.
  • 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.
  • Noodle Incident: Niemans' fear of dogs.
  • Old Cop, Young Cop: Pierre Niemans (old, played by Jean Reno) and Max Kerkerian (young, played by Vincent Cassel).
  • Race Lift: In the book, Kerkerian is called Karim Abdouf and he is of Middle Eastern descent.
  • Red Right Hand: Judith's missing finger.
  • 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.
  • 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 Eugenics program, were the university librarian and a nurse at the maternity ward.
  • Those Two Guys: Kerkerian's two Policiers Nationale.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Working the Same Case: Niemans and Kerkerian's investigations end being the same case.
  • You Didn't Ask: After the fight with the skinheads.


Example of: