Thursday, March 07, 2013

Série noire

1979, France, directed by Alain Corneau

Bleak stuff indeed, made somehow even more discomfiting by an infusion of truly black, occasionally absurdist, humour on top of the pitiless core that Corneau preserves from Jim Thompson's source novel, with the dancing bookends -- one clownish, the other desperate -- reflecting each other and reinforcing the sense that the central character has gone absolutely nowhere. Georges Perec contributes one of his very few films scripts, with his influence most apparent in the repetitions sprinkled throughout the dialogue, Patrick Dewaere's character manically repeating the same idea re-phrased two, three, four times, capturing the feel of 1970s slang very acutely, an effect that's reinforced by the use of contemporary pop music.

Dewaere is quite extraordinary -- the entire film spins on his axis of crazed energy, the character yawing wildly between emotions, most of them entirely inappropriate to the situations in which he finds himself. The camerawork draws us into his mental universe, too, bouncing around with him or bringing us uncomfortably close to scenes of emotional and physical violence (Corneau apparently put mikes on the actors, so we get an intensity of sound, too, that makes it impossible to move away from the action onscreen). Dewaere spares nothing of himself, whether it's the character's drab, unpleasant appearance or his willingness to run headlong into a car for the sake of the film, and while Bernard Blier and a very young Marie Trintignant make an impression, the film remains Dewaere's through and through; it's hard not to perceive some thread between his willingness to invest in a character like this and his own fragile emotional health.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States