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Florence Carala and her lover Julien Tavernier, an ex - paratrooper want to murder her husband by faking a suicide. But after Julien has killed him and he puts his things in his car, he finds he has forgotten the rope outside the window and he returns to the building to remove it... Written by
Stephan Eichenberg <email@example.com>
naturalistic to a T, cool to the bone, atmosphere and suspense pay-off
I've only seen a couple of other of Louis Malle's films, but I'm sure I'll want to see more after getting to see this in its revival in theaters. It's an ironic, tense, a little aloof and engrossing thriller that plays on a couple of expectations if not all. At times I almost felt like I was watching a darker, dramatic French-noir version of Curb Your Enthusiasm; you're cringing in your seat at times because everything, at least for the first hour, seems realistic, and the inter-cutting between the three plot-lines (Julien in the elevator, Florence on the streets, the lovers-on-the-run at the Motel). You know something bad will happen, as par for the style Malle is working in (it's his first film, one can/can't tell if they didn't know beforehand). But it interested me, and kept me in my seat, how I knew things may unravel as they should in these films, and I found myself having to root for someone in a sea of anti-heroes.
I mention Curb Your Enthusiasm as there is a sort of everyday occurrence that basically kicks off the plot (in tune with the genius title of the film), as Julien Tavaneur gets stuck in an elevator after getting rid of Florence Carala's rich husband (Moreau's character). Two kids, one more dangerous (if a little inexplicable, Louis) than the other, steal his car and stay at a Motel, where they meet a genial German tourist. Out of bad luck (as it is a running theme of the play), he kills the German, and things get more out of hand for everybody. In fact, the plot is rather thin, leaving room for a) suspense tenseness in the elevator scenes (and later in the interrogation scene, superbly lit), b) narrative musings by the calm Moreau, or c) troubles of the kids. These narratives are handled well, along with the typical police procedural, and it leads up to an ending that may not necessarily have a message to it.
It can't be as pat as 'crime doesn't pay'. Moreau, in a classy close-up, says things that struck a chord with me, as did many parts of the film. It may be fate, as par for the naturalism, but is there something behind the cool veneer? The only downside for me was with the performance of the actor who played Louis. I didn't think he gave enough to what is indeed a rather small-minded character. The actress who plays his girlfriend fares fine, but he is one of the keys to the film, and I felt a little uneasy watching some of his scenes later on in the film. But still, any fault(s) I had with the film were minuscule when looking at how it is overall. This is one of those films that for pretty much the whole way through had me in its grip; I've rarely felt that watching a 'film-noir' before, but I did feel a very small kinship to another love/lust/cold-murder film, Blood Simple, which leaped off of some of the conventions we all know and admire in these films.
And the contribution from Miles Davis, who is to 'cool' as the Beatles are to love & peace, can't be over-estimated. If Moreau gives the film a kind of downtrodden, wandering and wondering soul, and Malle gives the right look of the film with the great Henri (Le Samourai) Decae as DP, Davis backs up everything else. Sometimes his fast, overwhelming notes come through (mostly as on-the-set background music), and his slower music is landmark stuff, but what's surprising is that he can also add suspense, like to the elevator and interrogation scenes, and the mood is inescapable. I wouldn't be surprised if more than a few filmmakers who saw this film were inspired by Malle's use of free-flow jazz to add to the 'cool-ness' of the picture (not that he was the first of course, but it can be spotted in many films, in particular Herrmann's score for Taxi Driver). I have a feeling this may be the kind of film that will play better on multiple viewings, and for now I'm content to say it was a very well-spent trip.
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