Saturn Bowling: A violent and stylish French noir thriller

Saturn Bowling - Courtesy Dark Star Pictures
Saturn Bowling - Courtesy Dark Star Pictures /

I suspect that anyone who watches Saturn Bowling will fixate on one particular scene within the first 30 minutes. This scene’s violence is up there with anything that’s shown in Martyrs, Inside, High Tension, or other movies from the New French Extremity movement. This contemporary French film, directed by cult filmmaker Patricia Mazuy, seems at least partially inspired by that movement for its depiction of sex and violence. However, there are also elements of film noir here and a compelling character dynamic between two half-brothers. If people can get past that one truly rough scene, they’ll find a stylish feature with some dazzling cinematography and interesting character dynamics.

Achille Reggiani stars as Armand, a sleaze ball who sleeps in cars, stalks women, and murders them. His half-brother, Guillaume (Arieh Worthalter), is a police officer whose frustration simmers and builds as one dead body after another turns up. From the get-go, you know that these family members are on a collision course. To make matters more complicated, they go into business together when Guillaume offers a job to Armand as the manager of a bowling alley that their father, a big game hunter, owned. The dad’s death brings the half-brothers together again, though Guillaume doesn’t know what his brother is up to late at night.

The performances by Reggiani and Worthhalter are outstanding, especially the way they play off of each other and how much their characters contrast. For the most part, Guillaume is a straight shooter, who generally cares about his job. He never explodes and hardly, if ever, yells, but he conveys so much through his facial expressions and body language. In comparison, Reggiani turns in a performance, from the opening scene, that’s all kinds of creepy, as he lingers in the shadows, or in the bowling alley, dressed in all black, waiting for his next victim.

Saturn Bowling
Saturn Bowling – Courtesy Dark Star Pictures /

Because so much of Saturn Bowling is set in a bowling alley, there are interesting colors that resemble the work of Giallo films like Susperia and Dario Argento’s other masterpieces. The look and feel of the film have much to do with the eye-popping cinematography of Simon Beaufils, who was also the cinematographer for the contemporary Giallo Knife + Heart. He simply knows how to make sequences dazzle.

In terms of pacing, after that first act, the move transforms into a slow burn, a gritty thriller that becomes a bit of a cat and mouse game. It’s evident early on that the half-brothers will have their last clash, but it takes a good while getting to that point, and at times, the feature plods along a bit too slowly. In the meantime, the film also addresses trauma and the very idea of the predatory nature of humans, men especially. This is reinforced through the constant presence of animals, be it Armand’s dog, or videos of their dad shooting lions and other wildlife. Oh, and Guillaume dates an animal rights activist, Xuan (Y-Lan Lucas), whose tough spirit and love for animals adds another interesting layer to the feature.

Overall, Saturn Bowling is a gritty French noir thriller that deals with trauma and previsions of a family’s patriarchy. It’s a character-driven serial killer movie with eye-catching cinematography and a narrative that delves into the ugliest parts of mankind.

Saturn Bowling hits theaters on September 29, before arriving on DVD and digital on October 24.

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