For his first full-length feature, Frédéric Tellier revisits the true story of the ‘Beast of the Bastille’ who murdered seven young woman in the French capital between January 1991 and November 1997. L’Affaire SK1 (Serial Killer 1) is a sombre, behind-the-scenes look at the police investigation which led to the eventual arrest of Guy Georges (Adama Niane) as it follows one of the lead investigators, Franck Magne (Raphael Personnaz). It begs comparason with Zodiac, the 2007 thriller directed by David Fincher, but with one major difference. The killer in Fincher’s film is never discovered whereas Georges’ arrest and subsequent trail made major headlines in France and elsewhere. Tellier is gambling on a film which raises questions over the fundamental flaws in the police investigation and the moral dilemma faced by Georges’ lawyers rather than a straight forward thriller. But it’s clinical, documentary-style approach addresses neither issue satisfactorily.
It is 1991 and Magne has just joined the police force at its Paris headquarters, 36 Quai d’Orfèvre. His first task is to investigate the unsolved murder of a young woman Pascale Escarfail and he quickly establishes a link to other similar killings. Over the next eight years he becomes obsessed with finding the murderer and the Parisian police launch one of the most intensive searches ever in France. Georges is arrested in 1998 and his case goes to trial in 2001 where he demies the murders. Overcoming her initial reluctance, lawyer Frédérique Pons (Nathalie Baye) agrees to defend Georges believing the police have no real evidence against her client.
Tellier pulls no punches in the detailing the mistakes and Chekovian police bureaucracy which saw Georges questioned and released several times during the eight year investigation. These include mistakes over DNA samples, bungled footprints at the crime scene and the refusal by different police departments to share vital information. But his lack of a critical eye renders the whole exercise pointless. There is no perspective other than that of the police and judiciary. No attempt to enter the mind of the killer and provide some explanation for his crimes. The close, inner workings of the investigation are no doubt fascinating for fans of police procedure, but ultimately of no interest to the rest of the population.
If the scenes of the police investigation lack emotion, those set in the courtroom at Georges’ trail overflow with melodrama. Baye is excellant as the morally-conflicted lawyer Pons, but the stilted dialogue and lingering close-ups in the one-on-one scenes with Georges are overcooked. Niane, in his first major film role, is outstanding. The moment the apparently mild-mannered Georges confesses to Magne is truly chilling. Personnaz has had a good run of films over the past couple of years. He was Marius in Daniel Auteuil’s two films Marius and Fanny. Other credits include Bertrand Tavernier’s Quai d’Orsay and François Ozon’s Une Nouvelle Amie. He does a passable job here as the rooky policemen who matures into an intelligent and motivated senior officer although there’s an impression he is not really stretched in the role.