Tuesday, July 31, 2007

He made us laugh -- and shudder

Summary: Michel Serrault probably is best known for his audacious, flaming performance as Albin Mougeotte/'Zaza Napoli' in 1978's "La Cage Aux Folles," but Serrault, who died Sunday at the age of 79, could do more than mince.

I know. The Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni ("L'Avventura," "Blowup" and "Zabriskie Point") died Tuesday at the age of 94. Antonioni's career will receive a fair amount of attention, even though news of his death appeared a day after Ingmar Bergman's passing. The analysis, commentary and appreciation makes perfect sense. Though not of Bergman's stature, Antonioni earned his place in cinema history.

Still, I didn't want Serrault's death, which I didn't read about until Tuesday, to get lost in the shuffle. Serrault not only appeared in Henri-Georges Clouzot's 1954 thriller "Les Diaboliques" and in the enormously popular "La Cage," he made one of the most chilling and horrific films I've seen.

In 1990, Serrault played the title role in director Christian de Chalong's "Docteur Petiot," a film that tells the story of a ghoulish French physician who became a serial killer. If it's possible to be something worse than a serial killer, Petiot managed the trick. He promised to help Jews who were eager to escape from France to Argentina during the Nazi occupation. Instead of facilitating their flight, he murdered them, and took their money.

"Dr. Petiot," which is based on a true story, may not be a masterpiece, but, if memory serves, it's s disturbingly vivid slice of 20th century horror.

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