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The Virtuous Scoundrel More at IMDbPro »La vie d'un honnête homme (original title)

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12 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

You're your own worst enemy....

9/10
Author: dbdumonteil
11 June 2006

"Even if you're your own worst enemy

Sick of yourself

Sick of your everyday lot

You cannot spend your whole life

Throwing yourself into the water."

That's the song Mouloudji sings in the film,and it comes back as a sinister leitmotiv of a bleak distraught work,one of Sacha Guitry's best ,perhaps his best ,period.

The screenplay is so brilliant you will have to search your memory to find such a subtle inventive story.Guitry lets his inspiration flow,delivers some of the finest lines of his career and makes a masterpiece.

Albert Ménard-Lacoste is a despicable mean tight-fisted bourgeois who lives with his missus and his offspring.In his mind ,he is an honest man (check the title) .Enter his twin,Alain ,who is the opposite of his brother:he's been away for a long time,he's a semi-hobo,he has travelled around the world .Albert was so ashamed of his sibling he told his wife he was dead. "How old was I,when you buried me?"a deadpan Alain says.Without any special effect,using shot/reverse shot,Guitry who was dismissed sometimes as a "filmed stage productions director" never puts the two brothers in the same picture.

At this stage of the story ,everybody thinks: "the prodigal brother will settle everything a la Capra;thanks to him,Albert will change , be a true honest man,and fall in love again with his spouse."

Guitry does not do what we expect,not at all.Pas du tout.I cannot tell what happens next,for writing a spoiler would be a crime,even with a warning.

Although it often takes the form of a comedy,Guitry's film is a desperate meditation on man's destiny :might it be possible that he could pick up the pieces,start a brand new life?Does the second chance really exist?Sometimes it even takes the form of a detective story,a la Georges Simenon (the testament,Dr Ogier's phone call).The last picture is as pessimistic as anything Julien Duvivier ever produced:it speaks volumes about Guitry's somber philosophy.

Michel Simon proves here,once again,once more,that he was unique and irreplaceable.He plays two extremely difficult parts -which grow even harder as the movie progresses-.I wish Cesars had existed at the time.

The supporting cast is excellent: Marguerite Pierry is effective as the submissive drab spouse;Pauline Carton remains true to form;Lana Marconi has a small part of a prostitute.

But something will interest Louis De Funès 's fans:not only he plays the part of the servant but he also teams up with Claude Gensac,his future "wife" in "The Gendarme from Saint-Tropez" saga.Of course Guitry and Jean Girault are worlds apart and it's too bad that Funes never found a true great director afterward.

Even if you 're your worst enemy

Sick and tired of yourself

Sick of your routine life

You cannot spend your whole life

Throwing yourself in the water.

See this chef -d'oeuvre at any price!

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Marvellous Michel Simon

8/10
Author: Bob Taylor (bob998@sympatico.ca) from Canada
7 August 2014

If you are looking for virtuosic direction--fast cutting, swooping camera work and the like--don't bother with this. Visually the style is a bit clumsy; some scenes run on too long and the sets can be a little skimpy. If great acting from the star is what you want, then you'll get it here. Simon is terrific, just as good as he'd been in Panique in 1946. The contrast between bourgeois respectable Albert and rough-hewn Alain (just back from Canada, where he'd done prison time for some indiscretion) is beautifully well-drawn. Imagine a man who tells everybody that his twin brother died at 18 because he's ashamed of him, then imagine all the compromises he's had to make, all the hypocrisy he's had to live with over more than three decades: that's Albert, and Simon brings this out superbly. The other actors support the star capably. It was great to see Louis de Funes when he had a full head of hair, and Claude Gensac before she became matronly.

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