A man asserts himself within the life of an actress he believes is somehow responsible for his son's death.A man asserts himself within the life of an actress he believes is somehow responsible for his son's death.A man asserts himself within the life of an actress he believes is somehow responsible for his son's death.
As Chabrol goes further, it becomes a tale of Greek tragedy, or some variation on it. Paul's son, Philippe (a character as played by jean Yanne as if almost out of Bresson), hates his father with a passion, as his father has no respect for or tries to encourage his son with what he's got going on at school (perhaps conventionally, every scene with the father and son is a tense and violent outburst from father towards innocent son). One might think a collaboration might happen between the secretive, diary-writing Charles and the kind but frustrated kid, but this too isn't that simple. Chabrol also takes a smart tactic with that diary of Charles's; it could be just a narrative gimmick, and at times it feels as just that (maybe one of the film's only drawbacks, if only only on), but it does start to probe into a mindset that is one-track, and not without some reason in the genre sense. We're pitted on Charles's side, as he sneaks his way into Helen's heart, and then through her sometimes nice and other times (i.e. Paul's mother) savage in their verbal brutality.
But this same diary works as a something of a step-up from a psychological MacGuffin. Chabrol twists around with plot into motivation, and he pulls it off with his shooting and editing style, which applies just small, precise touches of the good old French New Wave into the proceedings (the occasional jump-cut, as any filmmaker knows, can't hurt under the right circumstances). What Chabrol's brilliant achievement is to transcend the trappings of a revenge film and to explore what the nature of malevolence brings past a simple crime- certainly these bastards have families, if they have the capacity to clear up their crimes with such skill like an owner of a hugely profitable auto-body/garage- and at the same time put a human angle into a plot that requires it. The actors do what they can (the man playing Charles, who I have not seen in other films, is very good in the lead, as is in his own right the man playing Paul Decourt, adding some layers to this rotten being), and despite some clunky scenes that do have to deal with the plot, there's some wit thrown in under the surface ("It's not a needle in a haystack, more like a needle in a box of needles,").
If This Man Must Die isn't a great film, and I'm not sure it is, it is at least a very successful example of finding some of the cracks in a revenge mystery, of adding that superlative mix of character into plot, and seeing what makes things like a diary, or a slip off a cliff, or an ambiguous ending, tick.
- Feb 18, 2008