Roberto Succo (15)

Review by Simon Bell

MOST of what follows is true: Roberto Succo, an Italian, kills his mother (who nagged him) and his policeman father (who didn't) in 1981, and then, five years later, while on limited release from the funny farm, decamps and goes on the run, giving cops the slip in three countries on a purposeless and horrifying three-year criminal spree of burglary, rape, and murder.

As France's Public Enemy Number One grows in notoriety, he drives nomadically back and forth between the Mediterranean coast and a French seaside town, where a besotted 16-year-old girlfriend sits idly and waits for him.

He abducts and rapes women, robs houses and kills a load of people - including three cops - before being finally nabbed while trying to sneak back to his late parents' house in an industrial Venice suburb to contemplate the scene of his first crime.

There's a deliberate avoidance of conventional narrative as the film follows the random killings and violent sex through to the final capture and rooftop protest of the protagonist. There's also no attempt to show any insight into the mind of Succo himself, partly because the film's based on Pascale Froment's original study, which strictly limits itself to what can be gained from eyewitness evidence: No killings are depicted on screen, just its aftermath.

Director Cedric Kahn, in turn, photographs his film in Cinemascope to heighten the documentary feel, markedly different from L' Ennui (1998) his previous psychological study, this time of sexual obsession.

In the central role is Stefano Cassetti, an untrained actor in his first appearance. With his staring, Kaa-like eyes and untamed menace, it's obvious why the producers took a gamble on him: As the eccentric criminal anti-hero with a psychotic attitude problem, he's brilliant.

Islid Le Besco as Léa, the high-school student with whom he has an affair until she belatedly realises he's off his chump, is equally watchable, while Patrick Dell'Isola adds perfect balance as committed gendarme Thomas.

In the end: a fresh look at the serial killer genre that will disturb, but in all the right places.