Based on the horrific case of the late-'80s Italian criminal, Roberto Succo intelligently sidesteps the clichés of the Hollywood serial killer movie. For once, here is a film that doesn't attempt to get inside the head of the murderer - that refuses to reduce the drama to a personal, intuitive duel between detective and murderer - and has no interest in fetishising the protagonist's gruesome handiwork.
Instead, writer-director Cédric Kahn (L'Ennui) approaches the source material with a cool detachment. He clinically examines the collision between two very different worlds: that of the unpredictable and schizophrenic Roberto Succo (brilliantly played by newcomer Stefano Cassetti), and that of the methodical, evidence-sifting police, embodied by Patrick Dell'Isola's investigating officer.
Five years after butchering his parents and being confined to a psychiatric institution, Succo embarks on a crime spree across France and Switzerland, committing murders, rapes, burglaries and carjackings. Identities and aliases are deployed and jettisoned by this compulsive liar, who somehow manages to simultaneously maintain a sexual relationship with a curiously uninquisitive schoolgirl, Lea (Isild Le Besco).
Stylishly shot in Cinemascope, Roberto Succo uses still photographs to remind us of the terrible human cost of the killer's actions. Yet Kahn never takes the easy route of dismissing his subject as pure evil, preferring to trouble the viewer by locating the human within.