By Caryn James | James on Screens July 5, 2011 at 1:00AM
With unplanned but impeccable timing, this fascinating French thriller about a womanizing business mogul comes just in time to catch the latest Dominique Strauss-Kahn developments. The story is based on the 1978 case of Baron Edouard-Jean Empain (really unknown here), which fortunately has been updated to the present and fictionalized with Yvan Attal as Stanislaus Graff, the arrogant chairman of a huge corporation who, just before he’s about to leave on a trip to China with the French president, is kidnapped and held for ransom.
Writer/director Lucas Belvaux keeps the crime plot flowing with perfect efficiency, but the more intriguing and original part of Rapt – its true focus – comes from the depiction of Graff’s family and business associates. When the kidnappers send one of Graff’s severed fingers and demand 50 million euros for his release, the company’s board balks. He’s the major shareholder, but they won’t risk the company for him. And when the press uncovers the seamy, hidden details of his life, including big gambling debts and a string of affairs, both his business associates and his wife and teenaged daughters have to grapple with even more than a kidnapping. Belvaux’s film raises the questions swirling around Strauss-Kahn and every other prominent man caught in a sex scandal (you know the list!). What was he thinking and what made him imagine he could get away with all that?
Anne Consigny is especially fine and restrained as Graff’s wife. She’s determined to save him, and is willing to give up the family’s personal fortune if the kidnappers will settle for 20 million euros. But we see an amazingly still, pained expression on her face when the police take her to what they call her husband’s “love nest,” an apartment he’s had for 15 years that she never knew about. Returning home, she screams at her daughters in her husband’s defense, claiming he had more energy than most men, and so much pressure from so much responsibility, “he needed his affairs.” We know they’re words she’s chosen to live by even if she’s not entirely convinced herself, and the willful pretense resonates through all those “good wife” figures in the news.
Belvaux smoothly cuts back and forth between the attempt to save Graff and his weeks as a captive. (Belvaux’ best-known work, The Trilogy, is a single story of crime, marriage and addiction seen from three different perspectives.) Attal grows gaunt before our eyes, a once powerful man stripped of any power at all. And he can’t imagine that his second-in-command at the company is scheming to keep control if and when the now discredited gambling-womanizing Graff returns.
Rapt (French for kidnapping) might have felt even fresher if Belvaux had spent less time on the attempt to ransom Graff, with plenty of false turns, and more on the aftermath. But as a sleek hybrid of kidnap-thriller and social commentary, the film feels timely and provocative. Without giving away the ending, I can say that we get a trenchant view of the kind of person he is: the type Tom Wolfe called a “master of the universe” who truly believes he is.
Rapt opens tomorrow at Film Forum in New York and will roll out to other theaters around the country in the next weeks.