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{BFI Flare} Bruno Reidal, Confession of a Murderer – Review

Bruno Reidal, Confessions of a Murderer has one of the most disturbing, in-medias-res opening sequences you might ever witness.

Bruno Reidal

When a splash of blood soils Bruno’s shirt, the camera reveals the true nature of the incident. It abruptly cuts to a decapitated body, the victim’s blood and brains splattered over a carpet of crunchy leaves. The headless corpse is that of a 13-year-old boy, but we won’t find out about how it all came about until much later. 

Bruno Reidal offers a muted approach to a killer’s story

Screening at BFI Flare, this film from director and writer Vincent Le Port already shocked the audience at Cannes last year, telling the story of a 17-year-old vicious queer killer. Bruno Reidal takes a rigorous and detailed approach to this tragedy, following its protagonist closely as he calmly gives himself up to the authorities and ends up in prison, where a panel of psychiatrists led by Professor Lacassagne (Jean-Luc Vincent) is to assess his mental state.

Le Port’s movie is stern, muted in color, and rather minimalistic, peppered throughout by Bruno’s voiceovers. These are delivered in such a calm tone to create a jarring contrast with the content of his journal’s entries, which he diligently compiles at the request of Lacassagne.

Bruno Reidal seems to suggest that the protagonist is a murderer, no doubt, but makes a point of not presenting him as a parody of a hyper-sadistic killer, foaming at the mouth. What we get to meet is a vulnerable teenager whose repressed sexuality and difficult upbringing — which included horrific sexual abuse— which have all taken a toll on him.

A philosophical struggle

Not long before the prolog’s heinous crime, Bruno enters a seminary, where he leads a relatively happy life. At Saint-Flour, he excels in his studies and interacts with other boys his age, experiencing a mix of repulsion and attraction for most of them, particularly the angelic Blondel (Tino Vigier).

The seminary is seemingly the only way for Bruno to escape a violent childhood and a prospectless future, as well as himself. Once away from this controlled space, he has little choice but to indulge in temptations, he says. For him, sinning is succumbing to a chilling combination of sexual pleasure and murderous thoughts. His is an itch to scratch furiously only to experience crippling guilt afterward and seek redemption — repeating the process over and over. It’s methodical and practical, a self-satisfying cycle that is soon not enough to appease him.

Bruno’s internal conflict is apparent in Doré’s performance, together with those of Roman Villedieu and Alex Fanguin, portraying the lead at age 10 and 6 respectively. The killer’s struggle is almost philosophical: it’s a continuous tension between caving to his most baseless instincts and walking the line of performative, religious devotion and dutiful self-restraint. It’s hedonism versus abstinence at play here, a dangerous line that Bruno hasn’t quite learned how to tread.

Bruno’s hands are his deadliest weapon

The protagonist’s eyes appear consistently lifeless, vitreous; his tone of voice flat. Instead, his restless hands betray his humble demeanor, becoming the most important focus in the entire movie and earning the place of pride on the film’s poster.

Bruno’s hands are also his deadliest weapon. The cinematography by Michaël Capron frames the protagonist’s hands as they fidget, as he bites his nails and cracks his knuckles. His hands are what give him great pleasure in multiple masturbation scenes. Significantly, his hands are also the tool he uses to take the life of his victim, aided by a knife. Finally, his bloody hands bear the signs of unspeakable sin and need therefore being washed thoroughly often madly.

Bruno’s obsession with masturbation is explored and exploited extensively. The link between orgasms and violence is apparent in Bruno’s journal and conversations with Lacassagne, and uncomfortably so.

Le Port aims to scandalize his audience with scenes bearing great shock value. One of the masturbation sequences (and there are plenty), is as distressing as it feels overly didactic. After hearing countless times that thoughts of murder arouse Bruno, Le Port makes sure the audience understands this when the protagonist holds his penis in one hand and, with the other, repeatedly stabs the ground with a knife. 

Why do we tell certain stories?

There are other moments that are hard to process in this film — a sexual assault and the gory decapitation scene that we get to witness twice — all treated with an equally exploitative approach that makes the audience question the motives of the film are just a couple. 

Why do we tell certain stories? Bruno Reidal is a somber study into the mind of a real-life killer, but it also perpetuates a harmful narrative, insisting on the link between the protagonist’s repressed sexuality and his darker impulses. It is a questionable depiction of queerness and, while the film tries to paint Bruno as someone who has been failed by his family and the institutions, it also risks equating his sexuality and his sadism, placing them both under the umbrella of perversion. We’re way past that.