The son of a French industrialist, Clément is a right wing extremist who belongs to a secret militant right wing organization that uses whatever means necessary, including violence, to ... See full summary »
The son of a French industrialist, Clément is a right wing extremist who belongs to a secret militant right wing organization that uses whatever means necessary, including violence, to achieve its goals. His wife Anne, a former German actress who gave up her career to be the doting wife, knows somewhat of his extremist views, and suspects he would indeed kill if need be as witnessed by what she finds hidden in their house. He often treats her poorly, especially out in public as she maintains the façade of her former celebrity, which he believes is her acting like a whore. Regardless, she is compelled to stay in the marriage. After he and a right wing colleague assassinate a Communist figure, that assassination which goes slightly awry, Clément and Anne hide out in the country home of Clément's childhood friend, Paul, who knows nothing about Clément's extremist views. Paul is a democrat and pacifist. Clément is forced to leave to pursue a mission, leaving Anne behind. Without Clément, ... Written by
Louis Malle produced the film as a criticism of Jean-Luc Godard and other then-right wing nouvelle vague directors and their support for the French occupation of Algeria and for the OAS and their campaign of terrorism and assassination in mainland France. See more »
This first feature film directed by Alain Cavalier is an atmospheric brooder. The plot is not entirely convincing, but the main motivations for making the film seem to have been to explore political extremism, social paranoia, and mood for its own sake. The film was made in the immediate aftermath of the Coup d'Alger of April, 1961, namely the rebellion against de Gaulle's Government headed by General Raoul Salan, the French military chief in Algeria, and his three co-conspirators. The plan was to have included a coup in Paris itself, but that did not come off. France was seriously spooked by this right-wing conspiracy which nearly succeeded. So this film is drenched in the atmosphere of paranoia prevalent at that moment in French society. France has always had its terrorists of all kinds, and the right wing ones have been as sinister as those of the far left. In this film, we see a small group of elegant, rich young bourgeois men who have decided to save their country from communism. At least that's what they think. And like all political extremists, the means always justify the end, so they are free to commit any crime, murder being their favourite. They meet twice a month for weapons and combat training in the countryside, gleefully firing their machine guns at symbolic enemies, with crazed grins on their faces. One of these young men is played by the youthful Jean-Louis Trintignant, a grim, humourless fanatic who beats up his wife. The conspirators at one point sing a Petainist song, and are clearly survivors of the Vichy mentality, only even more extreme. When Trintignant goes to South America, he boasts of having met exiled Germans who were kind to him (get it?) and says that as he moved from city to city, starting in Buenos Aires, he was always fed and given money and new passports by the endless network of sympathisers there. So we get the picture. Trintignant is married to Romy Schneider, who gives a marvellously rounded and inspired performance as a woman who clings to her persecutor and keeps returning to be beaten up again. But eventually she snaps when a baby's life is at stake rather than just her own. When Schneider realizes that her husband has attempted to assassinate a member of the National Assembly (or Senate, it's not clear which) by firing a bazooka at his flat from a rooftop, she does not desert him, a typical behaviour of the willingly enslaved masochistic woman. Despite her obvious psychological disturbance, Schneider is always laughing and exceedingly carefree in her manner, flirting and enjoying herself, so that the performance is really far from one-dimensional. Trintignant's best friend from his youth is a left-wing pacifist printer, played with convincing languor by Henry Serre. When Trintignant and Schneider seek shelter with him at a beautiful old mill deep in the countryside, the psychological complexities multiply. Serre and Schneider eventually become an item while Trintignant is off killing someone. This does not go down well with Trintignant, who simply cannot see the funny side, so he challenges Serre to a duel. Serre thinks this is some kind of joke, but even by now Serre has failed to realize that Trintignant does not joke. Eventually this leads to a life and death struggle on a small river island (a holm), which is what gives this film its original French title, LE COMBAT DANS L'ILE, which means THE FIGHT ON THE ISLAND, though the English language title is FIRE AND ICE, whatever that means. Naturally I cannot say what happens at the end. A sombre and intense mood is sustained throughout this film, so it is really more of a 'mood piece' than a story. But it is a mood piece which evokes a moment in time in France and gives us an insight into the fears which haunted people then. Many of the interiors of buildings in Paris glimpsed in this film are seen to be shabby, still not fixed up since the German Occupation. Indeed, the ghost of the Nazi presence seems still to be there, as the spawn of the Nazis go about their evil work. And we are left wondering about women like the character played by Schneider: what makes them tick? Or is their ticking really that of a time-bomb of self-destruction? This film poses questions of a psychological, moral, and political nature which are uncomfortable and will probably never be resolved as long as there are humans and human societies. There is always a dark side, and here we see some of it up close.
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