Friday, February 28, 2014

Les Inconnus dans la maison

1942, France, directed by Henri Decoin

No great surprise to discover that the first filming of this Simenon story is superior to the 1990s remake, and even less surprising to discover that the script, by Henri-Georges Clouzot, displays a good deal of the acidity he'd unleash with full force a few years later in Le Corbeau. The film is a good deal tighter, with Decoin and Clouzot spending less time establishing Raimu's bona fides as an unreliable drunkard -- one suspects the Belmondo ego requirer more screen time -- although the sheer unlikeliness of the scenario, and the apparent absence of questions of conflict of interest in the French legal system, persist. Here, though, the scenario is used in the service of a commentary on the insidious relationships between the haute bourgeoisie of a small town; 1942 audiences in France may well have read the plot, with an unwelcome home invader shot to death in the opening sequences, in rather different terms, and indeed the dead man is of virtually no interest to anyone except in so far as he motivates the plot. The last third of the film is an extended courtroom sequences, and Decoin uses the ornate courtroom to good effect, with the witnesses often filmed from above, as though from the judge's or the jurors' perspectives; he picks up, too, on the ways in which the various players cannot hide their distress or consternation in this most public of forums.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States