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The Clockmaker of St. Paul (1974)

L'horloger de Saint-Paul (original title)
A Watchmaker finds out one day that his son has become a murderer. He tries to understand for whom and why.



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Jacques Denis ...
Antoine - un ami de Michel
Yves Afonso ...
L'officer de police Bricard
Julien Bertheau ...
Edouard - un ami de Michel
Jacques Hilling ...
Costes - un journaliste
Clotilde Joano ...
Janine Boitard - une journaliste
Andrée Tainsy ...
Madeleine Fourmet - qui a élevé Bernard
William Sabatier ...
Cécile Vassort ...
Martine - une ouvrière
Sylvain Rougerie ...
Bernard Descombes - le fils de Michel
Christine Pascal ...
Liliane Torrini - la compagne de Bernard
Liza Braconnier ...
La femme de ménage
Hervé Morel ...
Bricard's assistant
Sacha Bauer ...
Le juge d'instruction


Michel Descombes is a watchmaker in the district of Saint-Paul, Lyons. He lives quietly, alone with his almost grown-up son, Bernard. One day, the police come and say Bernard murdered a FACTORY OWNER. Superintendent Guiboud asks Michel for help. But Michel realizes how little he knows about his son. He also starts to feel he is unable to blame his son. Written by Yepok

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Crime | Drama


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Release Date:

28 June 1976 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Clockmaker  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
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Did You Know?


The little girl on the train at the beginning of the film is Tiffany Tavernier, the filmmaker's daughter. See more »

Crazy Credits

to Jacques Prevert See more »


Referenced in Sneak Previews: The Best and Worst Films of 1976 (1977) See more »

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User Reviews

What makes Herr D tick?
24 November 2003 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

"The Clockmaker" is a minor classic... so great, in fact, that nobody seems to know what to do with it. Why? Perhaps it doesn't fit neatly enough into the crime genre. The first shots are provocative: A child looks out from a train at a burning car. As the opening titles hit the screen, the music crescendoes. We know something bad has just happened; we brace ourselves for the violence to come. The cinematography here has the hard-hitting feel of exposé cinema (e.g., Costa-Gavras' `Z'.) As if leaving its promise unfulfilled, however, this is the film's most dramatic moment. The only violence, as it were, has occurred before the action director Bertrand Tavernier shows us. Much like its principal characters, we are left to contemplate what happened and WHY it took place.

The story is simple enough. Monsieur Decombes, a clockmaker, is interrupted at work by the local police. They inform him that his abandoned car was found by the side of the road, left there by Bernard, his son. Would he accompany them to go see it? Under this pretext, they bring him to the station, where he meets a mysteriously evasive Inspector Guilboud. They return to the vehicle together. Only then does the inspector confront him with the awful truth: Bernard and his girlfriend have killed a man. Decombes is shocked. How could his boy have done it? Throughout the rest of the film, he struggles to understand this hideous crime and his relationship with Bernard, ultimately left with more questions than answers.

Mainstream moviegoers find "The Clockmaker" boring and anticlimactic. They're used to seeing crime flicks with action and plot twists. Here, they know the identity of the murderer from the start, they never see a dead body or an exciting arrest, and 90% of the focus is on the criminal's father. What they're left with is an hour and a half of wayward wanderings... of "character development." What could be more pedestrian? One almost gets the sense that this was the very reason that Tavernier chose to bring Georges Simenon's book to the screen: It's structure is a full inversion of what audiences are used to. This is a point that deserves to be revisited later, as it has a great deal to do with the deeper meanings of this work.

While it won the Prix Louis Delluc, `The Clockmaker' has never been taken seriously by arthouse snobs either. They call its direction `heavy-handed.' They note the over-the-top performances of Philippe Noiret and Jacques Denis (not to mention Yves Afonso. runner-up to Alain Delon in the "too-cool-for-words" competition.) Oddly, they call it `commercial'... a conventional social melodrama. And while it isn't Hollywood melodrama of the Douglas Sirk or Nicholas Ray varieties, there is some validity in this assertion. The definition of `melodrama' describes the film well: `A composition. intended to exhibit a picture of human life, or to depict a series of grave or humorous actions of more than ordinary interest, tending toward some striking result.' And the point of the film is all-too-obvious: Love isn't clockwork.

I've heard `The Clockmaker' compared to many films, including those of the French New Wave that preceded it. Is there any similarity, though, between Tavernier's work and such melodramas as. say. Godard's `Vivre sa vie' or Truffaut's `The Soft Skin'? There isn't. Some have suggested that the film was the model for `The Sweet Hereafter', in that both deal with isolation and the loss of children. Yet, where Egoyan's film is politically neutral to the point of nihilism, `The Clockmaker' outlines a specific set of social conditions that made murder an inevitability. The factory watchman is the avatar for all social-climbing capitalists. abusing his authority toward lecherous ends. Liliane, Bernard's girlfriend, is the powerless victim. Whether or not Bernard pulled the trigger is immaterial. In effect, society has handed him the gun, cocked and loaded.

Personally, I find the film more similar to the work of the New German Cinema. particularly Fassbinder's `Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven.' Both films begin just after murders have been committed. Both films spotlight those who are left behind to deal with loved ones' unspeakable acts. Both films give us radicals and reactionaries, each determined to use the protagonists' woes to political advantage. Ultimately, `The Clockmaker' is the more profound work of the two. It is a true `slice of life' and not the stagy drama that `Mütter Küsters' is. Starting from a conservative stance in its opening scene, in which Decombes and his friends discuss the merits of capital punishment, it turns out to be a liberal piece. Its point, as I see it, is not merely that 'violence begets violence.' True love, in Tavernier's paradigm, comes not from hearing but from listening. not from validation but from understanding. not from making things run like clockwork but from accepting the bumps in the road as part of the journey.

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