The nouvelle vague slagged him off,notably Truffault who used to dismiss him as "the cinema lawyer" .This depiction is thoroughly accurate,but ,unlike "les 400 coup" director,I do not mean it pejoratively.Cayatte was the fair knight, always around to champion any good cause going.And with hindsight,one should admit that not only Cayatte was unique but he was also ahead of his time with his christlike upholders of the law -who influenced post nouvelle vague directors such as Costa-Gavras ("Z",Jean Louis Trintignant's role) or Yves Boisset ("le juge Fayard dit le shériff" ,Patrick Dewaere's part)and countless others in the French seventies,in the post-may 68 era, when the political movie became trendy.
Cayatte's inspiration did not come out of the blue though.He continued the French tradition of those complicated affairs which Clouzot ("le corbeau",1943) and Louis Daquin ("le voyageur de la Toussaint" ,1942) had already broached.Cayatte added the judicial side and thus got a style of his own.
Because this is a complicated even muddled affair.It begins as a pure political plot,then turns into a psychological thriller -generally the plots are the opposite of this,the intimate drama becoming a political conspiracy -.There are lots and lots of character ,and you've got to follow the story very closely or else you will the vital lead.A bevy of first-rate contemporary actors -Blier,Roquevert,Danielle Delorme,Sylvie- give the movie substance and any minor character,be it on the screen for a few minutes ,is interesting-one thing the nouvelle vague was never able to do,with a few exceptions-.A sordid story involves poisoning,bribes,informing,veiled hints at abortion (Sylvie's shady midwife character),the recent past with WW2 and the concentration camps, corrupt bourgeois who rule the town through the municipality,adulteries,you name it...
The movie begins with bells ringing , grandiose choirs and the great organ.It provides a violent contrast with what follows :you really seem to swim in a river of dirt.
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