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Alain Delon investigates a murder near Simone Signoret's farm
"The Burned Barns" (1973) is generally a low-key and subdued film. It takes place in a farm area that's cold and snowy 5 or 6 months out of the year. Simone Signoret plays an energetic matriarch who runs a farm with her husband, Paul Crauchet. The murdered corpse of a young city woman is found in the heavy snow near her Mercedes-Benz not 5 minutes from Signoret's farmhouse. Alain Delon arrives to investigate.
The family members include 2 sons and 2 daughters. Jean Bouisse plays a journalist. Renato Salvatori is an innkeeper in the nearby town where Delon lodges. It is rather fun to see the two reunited again as they were in "Indian Summer" and would be again in both "Le Gitan" and "Flic Story". Delon and Signoret previously appeared in "Is Paris Burning" and "The Widow Couderc".
Delon works on the theory that a passing vagabond is an unlikely culprit because of the weather. He focuses on the Signoret family. She is determined to keep her father's farm going, utilizing her family. The farm doesn't make much money. The offspring cannot save much if anything. If the land were sold off, it could find higher-valued uses than milk cows. That's what they'd like to do in order to convert their labor into cash.
As Delon works through the case, attempting to break the shield of Signoret's protectiveness, family skeletons and dysfunctions emerge. The story is really about this family and Signoret's single-minded devotion to the farm. Unprofitable family businesses sometimes survive only by infusions of labor extracted from the family members who then feel exploited and want out.
The magnetism of the acting of Delon and Signoret lift the film as best they can. The photography and setting help too. The mystery also lurks throughout. The film's focus is really Signoret's character. That portrait is moderately intense. Her character is not given to outward emotional displays. She's restrained much of the time and self-controlled. Her conflicts with her family members are not painted in thoroughly. Delon seems too deferential or respectful to her at times, making his character seem rather diffuse.
Although the film seems to fall short of really scoring and making a big dramatic impact, the strong performance of Signoret is memorable.
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