Thursday, August 27, 2015

La Machine

1977, France, directed by Paul Vecchiali

On the strength of this film Vecchiali clearly requires further investigation -- he seems essentially unknown in the English-speaking world and I found only the barest of references to him in most academic works. Despite certain key tonal differences, this would make an interesting double bill with Slap the Monster on Page One -- two 1970s films exploring the role of the media in criminal cases. The media has an especially complex role in Vecchiali's film given its simultaneous reflection of the story and desire to sell it, but also as an important vector of the debate on capital punishment, circulating ideas in a sometimes serious-minded way that provides a marked contrast to its treatment of the individual crime. 

It was only afterwards that I discovered how closely the circumstances of the case paralleled those of a highly controversial death penalty case in 1975, that of the execution of Christian Ranucci -- a case controversial enough that Giscard is still questioned about it occasionally today. Many of the details in La Machine were quite similar, though the film never raised doubts about the subject's guilt. As it happened, the final French execution took place the same week the film was released in 1977, although the death penalty was not actually banned until 1981. 

Formally, the film is quite fascinating, using a great deal of realistic footage -- some of the sequences of journalists/interviews/vox pops go on for strikingly long periods, but then are contrasted with much more obviously artificial sequences, like the barroom scene that comes across like a scene from a play, the barflies artlessly moving from one spot to another as the camera pans back and forth outside the windows, before the characters unexpectedly break into song, a wonderfully destablizing moment.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States