Veteran director Pascal Thomas clearly has a taste for adapting novels by a particular brand of British crime writer. He has already filmed four novels by the Grand Dame of British crime fiction Agatha Christie – By the Pricking of my Thumbs, Towards Zero, Crime is Our Business and Partners in Crime. He now turns his hand to Ruth Rendell’s darkly humerous Tigerlily’s Orchids. Rendell’s success as a writer lies largely in her in-depth exploration of the psychological backgrounds of criminals and their victims. Valentin Valentin captures none of this and is a flat, dated, part-thriller, part love-story that favours the intricacies of a tangled plot at the expense of any real mystery .
The film opens with the discovery of Valentin’s dead body (Vincent Rottiers) in a park in an eastern suburb of Paris. Valentin was living alone in an apartment building filled with an assortment of odd characters anyone of whom could be the murderer. There is Valentin’s possessive mistress Claudia (Marie Gillain) or her jealous husband Freddy (Louis-do de Lencquesaing). It could equally be Elodie (Marilou Berry), the young woman Valentin rejected or the janitor Roger (François Morel) who fears Valentin has discovered his dirty secret. And the list goes on – so many suspects and so little time to delve into their psyche. The owlish Valentin is blissfully unaware of the effect he has on the woman in his building and has become obsessed with the young Chinese woman who lives opposite and who he suspects is being held against her will. His only thought is how he can rescue this damsel in distress.
The whodunit, a vital part of the murder mystery, has become irrelevant in Thomas’ retelling of the story. Who cares when we can plunge into the dreary lives of these apartment block tenants who, at first glance, appear completely ordinary, but on closer inspection appear to lead double lives? But where the mix of people provides fertile ground for a descent into the absurd with a side order of black humour, this cast of self-obssessed, narcissists are detestable and bland. And what could be dark and intriguing ends us as creepy and disturbing. It’s a waste of a talented bunch of actors of both the older generation (Geraldine Chaplin, Arielle Dombasle, Morel, Gillain) and the younger (Berry, Rottiers, Agathe Bonitzer).
Last year, François Ozon, captured the complexity of Rendell’s psychological thrillers in the multi-layered Une Nouvelle Amie (The New Girlfriend) with Romain Duris in the lead role. Valentin Valentin is not in the same league.