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French diplomat Dominique Auphal is put under surveillance by an unnamed secret service. They wish to find a weakness in his life in order to control him politically. Auphal becomes "File no. 51": his private life is spied, analysed and commented. Written by
A Life in Pictures : One of the best biopic of all time
A movie about creation and perception, a big paste of shorts films, pictures and misc documents, about cinematographic language as it were in the late 70's
A foreign secret service put Dominique Auphal (a diplomat) under surveillance in order to find a psychological and/or social weakness in his life to ensure some kind of leverage to control him politically (by blackmailing). His life is analyzed, commented, discussed and rationalized. He's the File (number) 51.
First it can be seen as a view on an omnipresent figure representing oppressive control over individual lives ; a variation on Orwell's 1984 set in France in the late 70's describing a society with less privations and overwhelming authority. More realistic though as pessimistic as the novel.
Then it provides keys and show the 'everyone's watching everyone' just born-ed syndrome when secret services agents go on coarse or trivial comments about Auphal's personal life ('why in hell he's dating this girl ?' 'what kind of twisted guy has this kind of sexual fantasies'..) ; they're judging him beyond the psychological analysis they have to do and lose partiality. 30 years before 'garbage - who's fu**ing who -' reality TV, Michel Deville discusses about basic viewers pulsion and perversion.
About one third of the movie is overdubbed (messy voices-over spoken by secret services agents watching Auphal) footages of Auphal (51 in a street, in a park, at home ; spy cameras, photographs, sound recordings..) we are at heart with empathy. We both follow the POV (perception) of a secret service agent by watching those documents AND due to the fact that this investigation is merciless, so complete and meticulous we're deeply breaking in Auphal's life. This is a document produced by this secret service, the whole movie is created by them as it could be shown to an executive who wouldn't know the case.
Dominique Auphal is born during WWII, he was about 25 years old during the 1968 french events with everything that it involves, psychologically ; he's part of the generation that had no global war to handle, enjoying freedom of social, professional and sexual choices. The movie deserves to be seen just to get a good look on the France of those years..
"His Life's Facts" are thrown into your face during a hundred minutes : the movie is a list of things, facts, views about this man ; as in Antonioni's Blow-up (another one charactered movie about photographic and its medium perception), there's no great deal of action or mystery but the portrait of the loneliness of a man. One is surrounded by models, big money, The Yardbirds and creation during the swinging sixties (lucky lucky) whereas 51 is trapped in a strict and pretty depressing professional life (but a valuable position for other countries to have under control) and his sexual habits...
Technically, there's never-seen-before innovations (use of 'look through camera', POV shots, interview footages, jump cuts ; all mixed up) but Le Dossier 51 is also one the most incredible cinematographical portrait ever made, supported by great actors (François Marthouret as 51 and Roger Planchon as Esculape 1), state-of-the-art editing and cinematography.
To be watched along with : Le Prix du Danger (1983, Y.Boisset), The Conversation (1974, F.F. Coppola), Blow up (1966, M. Antonioni), Blow out (1981, B. De Palma), Je te tiens, tu me tiens par la barbichette (1979, J. Yanne) and everything discussing artistic mediums or/and medias.
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