What to do when you encounter something like this? Its so remarkably perfect in one dimension and so busted in another, so horribly mangled.
What's screwed is the actual mystery, how it is spun and "explained." There's a reason why the standard form concentrates the solution in a blast at the end, perhaps with some visual recall and recreation of what we have seen and puzzled over.
Here, fully a third of the movie is "explanation," and oh lord is it tedious. Early in the explanation we simply stop caring. After this ended, I couldn't help recalling the recent "The Illusionist," which handled a puzzle of a similar type with immensely more grace and engagement. So that kills it. There's a last minute revelation, but by that time we have already left the story.
But on the good side, there is such fun in how this is cinematically elaborated. The world that is created is so gently comic, so mechanically articulated that I will recommend this anyway. There are completely surreal qualities: the detective we follow apparently leaves France and goes to America to do research and returns, all within an evening. Some of the decisions of the filmmakers build on the hooks in the book: the accompanying photographer, the dueling detectives, the father of the attacked as an inventor of machines whose elaborate and indirect mechanisms mirror the way the filmmakers see the plot.
The famed title sequence is of such a machine: a ball rolls through troughs and drops and different devices, eventually falling into a toy train that segues into a real train with our four observers on their way to the crime scene.
Then once at the crime scene we meet the father who invents and builds just these sorts of machines. In the train, we are given a clue in how the newspapers are read in perfect sync by the four readers that some symmetry principals will be at work: if we see a father who makes elaborate machines maybe we should be looking for the same or similar elsewhere. But the signal isn't strong enough; even I missed it and I am obsessed with such cues.
So its really odd that the thing is so perfectly structured, with such symmetries that you should be able to just look at the missing reflections to parse out the answer. And at the same time it is so asymmetrical in its excellence: the form of the story so deft in one way and so incompetent in another. Its like visiting a Guarini-designed baroque church. Some elements are garish and repulsive while others are transcendently lifealtering.
Other things to recommend this. The French, let's face it, are generally ugly. The faces chosen for this production leverage that and give us faces that don't try to be engaging by prettiness. That frees the actors to give us characters that are deeper than usual, creating types that have reality.
Also. The woman who is the target for the murder attempts and who is supposed to be about 40 I guess, is played by an oddly appealing redhead. She's the long time companion of Alain Resnais, one of the French new wavers actually worth spending time with. She's almost a prop, as is the only other woman in the cast. The plot depends on the affections of these women being mechanically predicable.
Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.
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