Scene of the Crime (1986) Poster

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Lacks focus, but interesting
DennisLittrell14 May 2002
The title is a bit misleading since Le lieu du crime is not a noir thriller or a mystery. It is a relationships movie with psychological undertones. Director André Téchiné is especially drawn to the exploration of family affairs featuring naturalistic depictions of human sexuality. For example see Ma Saison Préférée (1993), also starring Catherine Deneuve, in which the central tension, maintained for decades, is that of a brother's unrequited desire for his older sister. Téchiné is very good at exploring taboo situations without leaving us with a sense of the perverse, and he is able to hint at a deeper, non-expressed sexuality behind ordinary life.

Here Catherine Deneuve stars as Lili Ravenel, who has a 13-year-old son, Thomas (Nicolas Giraudi), who is not doing well at school, a father who no longer cares about people at all, including members of his own family, and a mother who is emotionally close and distant by turns. Lili is estranged from her husband, a man she no longer loves, if ever she did. She is a woman of a certain age who finds diversion in managing a night club. Thus we have the familiar psychology of the bored middle class woman who, we know, will be drawn irresistibly to the excitement of an outsider. Directors who find themselves in the enviable position of directing the beautiful, cool and stately Deneuve seem themselves irresistibly drawn to showing her in compromised situations. I'm thinking of Belle de Jour (1967) and Mississippi Mermaid (1969), directed respectively by Luis Buñuel and Francois Truffaut. In the former Deneuve is a day-tripping prostitute and in the latter she is a criminal on the run. For some odd reason there is something deeply moving about seeing Deneuve give into her baser nature. (I think.)

Anyway, here she does indeed give herself to the rough young man who has killed his companion, and she does so without a hint of regret or lingering doubt. Incidentally in Téchiné's Ma Saison Préférée, mentioned above, there is a scene in which a young intern has his way with Deneuve using much the same approach that Wadeck Stanczack, who plays Martin, an escaped con, employs here. That Lili's sexuality is aroused by his crude demand is the psychology that Téchiné wants to concentrate on; but because one of the weaknesses of his movie is a lack of focus, the impact of her desire is not as strongly felt as it might be. For a most striking and stunning exploration of this theme see Vittoria De Sica's unforgettable The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1971).

Another weakness of this movie is some unconvincing action and dialogue in places. The opening scene in which Thomas is threatened by Martin who demands money to help him escape is a case in point. Martin's threats seem mild and ineffective. One wonders why Thomas is compelled to return. I also wonder about the boy's response to seeing his mother in bed with Martin. His first reaction is to say, "He will kill you!" and then later he asks his father, "Is that love?", which doesn't seem like something a 13-year-old would say. A six-year-old, maybe. Also a puzzle is why Claire Nebout, who is interesting as Alice, the girl involved with the two escapees, stops her car in the rain to pick up Thomas only to throw him out a few minutes later. Why did she stop at all? As the scene was shot he seemed to be in the middle of the road, so she couldn't avoid him, but considering that it was dark and it was raining, I don't think that would happen. At any rate, the purpose of the scene is to show that Thomas, like his mother, is starved for excitement, begging Alice to take him with her.

My favorite Téchiné movie is Rendez-Vous (1985) starring a very young and vital Juilette Binoche, who is clearly adored by the director. It is, like this movie, uneven in places, but Binoche is incredibly sexy and captivating. If you are a Binoche fan, see it. You will experience a side of her not shown in her American movies.

By the way, when this was filmed Deneuve was about 43-years-old and had already appeared in at least 67 films. She is the kind of woman who grows more beautiful as she grows older. I found her much more attractive here than when I first saw her in the celebrated The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), released when she was 21.

(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
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Compelling, complex and worthy.
Revelator_26 August 2001
I've only seen three of Andre Techine's films ("Rendez-Vous," "Scene of the Crime," and "Wild Reeds") but after watching "Wild Reeds" I knew I'd have to watch everything else he'd ever made, for now I was a life-long fan.

"Scene of the Crime" has many of the virtues of "Wild Reeds,"--a film that will inhabit you for weeks after you've seen it--chief among them Techine's intelligence and sensitive handling of character and flair for melodrama. If Thomas Hardy were alive today, he'd probably be Techine's script-writer.

The film's two concerns are repression and freedom. Thomas--a sullen angry 13 year old--and Lili--his dreamy, distractedly neurotic mother-- undergo several collisions and unions with a young escaped convict and his friends: they are left to pick up the pieces and reconfigure their lives. Both mother and son are bound by a repressions whose roots are in family, community and religion. And each conflict with others binds them like a rope, so that Thomas futilely lashes out in anger while Lili attempts to lose (and in doing so) find herself with an act of impulsive negation. We could trace much of the repression toward the less likable characters--other criminals or family members--but doing so is futile. Techine understands what Renoir meant when said "everyone has his reasons," and so this film isn't about the difficulty of living with other people, but the difficulty of living in this universe.

Techine has often been called a "novelistic" director; meaning he takes you deep inside his characters' thoughts and motivations. This doesn't involve voiceover, just Techine's direction and the melodramatic plots that force their characters into confrontations ordained by the strength of their passions. Melodrama asks the most of its characters; requires them to feel and undergo all they can. It's numerous coincidences, and run-ins can seem like an amplified version of life's randomness and havoc. Techine's approach involves an analytical acceptance of melodrama's approach to narrative; a willing and measured use of its conventions, resulting in narratives that often seem more vivid than reality and paradoxically more truthful and satisfying. The emotions unearthed are more intense than those brought out by reality, but possess the inner truth of reality.

His technique is not flashy, attention-getting or hyper-formalistic: which means it works discreetly and extremely well. There is an ever-present analytical attention to the natural (and un-) surroundings that surround his characters, along with an intense intimacy toward them. He follows very few rules, and mixes quick cutting with measured long takes and a mobile camera. All this allows us to move back and forth and toward and away from his characters, sympathizing with them in close-up one moment, then judging at a detached angle or pan to another character's reaction. It is a wonderfully effective method, and constantly reminds us of each character's motivations (as do the relentless melodramatics.)

Techine's films aren't formally difficult, but if you lose track at one point it's hard to catch up, because his characters will have accumulated even more motivations and reactions by then. The intense sensitivity of his style allows us to accurately register each character's accumulating layer of emotions, which continually enlarge their motivations. To lose track of that accumulative process is probably what happened to Roger Ebert, who wrote the film should have been a gangster drama made in 1939, so that the melodramatic plot would seem more acceptable and Techine's moments of psychological insights wouldn't seem so "out of place." (The film IS primarily flawed in the sketchiness of the convict's lover and the overly-rushed pace of the climactic sequence.)He doesn't consider that the melodrama of the plot is precisely what allows for those moments of psychological insight. And desire for the film to be an old-fashioned crime noir seems inexplicable, when this is obviously a family drama where crime serves to provoke a shake-up and re-evaluation of family relations and the life-directions the characters have chosen. At the end of "Scene of the Crime" we're not sure whether Thomas and Lili have either recovered or damaged forever. And as Lili hauntingly remarks, after a certain point, losing and finding yourself may be the same process.
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holds up well until the final scenes
mjneu591 January 2011
The title might lead viewers to expect an elegant parlor room whodunit, but this elegant French import is something else entirely: part thriller, part domestic melodrama, and in large part a story of the end of innocence for a troubled young boy on the threshold of adulthood, who stumbles on the hideout of an escaped convict. Under threat of death the boy is sworn to silence, but the real trouble begins after his divorced mother learns the secret and becomes fatally attracted to the fugitive. The story unfolds with rare narrative subtlety, expressed in unspoken thoughts and barely repressed emotions. Too bad the plot is then allowed to collapse in the final act, with all the conflicting elements forced together in a rushed climax, followed by a long, inconclusive fade-out meant to appear ambiguous but looking more like the end result of writer's block. The weak resolution partially mars an otherwise attractive and well-acted drama, handsomely photographed in a glorious corner of French countryside at the end of a long, dry summer.
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A poignant and tense film worth watching
KobusAdAstra27 May 2016
Thomas, a young teenager ably played by Nicolaus Giraudi, is from a troubled background. His parents are divorcing; he has problems at school and has a reputation that he tells fibs and is not to be trusted. Picking flowers for his grandmother, he stumbles upon an escaped convict, Martin (Wadeck Stanczak). Martin convinces Thomas to bring him money. Thomas complies and when he delivers the money is assaulted by Martin's accomplice, another escaped convict. Martin helps Thomas escape.

Thomas's mother Lili (Catherine Deneuve) runs a club on the lake. After a violent altercation between Martin and his accomplice, an injured Martin goes to the club where he meets Lili. She feels attracted to him and decides to help Martin.

The film is full of nuances. The dynamics between Thomas and his parents, and his grandparents and parents is cleverly and in an understated manner brought to our attention. A good example of that is the strained atmosphere and undercurrents at the grand luncheon held to celebrate Thomas's first communion.

The soundtrack is outstanding too. In one of the scenes in the woods where suspense is reaching breaking point, André Téchiné uses the sound of cicadas and crickets building up to a crescendo to accentuate the tension. A very clever technique indeed.

Cinematography is of the highest quality too.

If there is one thing I will remember, it is the quality of the performances; they all are really good. Special mention must be made of the commanding performances by Catherine Deneuve, and by Danielle Darrieux who plays Thomas's grandmother.

I score this film a high 8/10.
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does not entirely fulfill its great promise
myriamlenys4 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
As the relationship between his parents deteriorates (or rather, deteriorates even further), young Thomas begins to show troublesome behavior : he lies, he invents, he causes problems at school. One day Thomas runs into two escaped convicts. Very few people are willing to listen to his tales about dangerous strangers who threaten and mistreat him...

Viewed as a crime thriller or gangster movie, "Le lieu du crime" starts out slow, builds up a nice atmosphere of threat, menace and violence, and then, sadly, peters out. The ending seemed particularly weak... The movie works better as drama, since it gives a moving portrayal of a family rent by conflict and lack of communication. Unsurprisingly, the thirteen-year-old son/grandson is the one who suffers the most - it's always the most vulnerable who pay the heaviest price. And since he's turning into a damaged, unreliable loner, it's likely that, when his time comes round, he'll hand HIS children a nice dose of generational legacy...

Anyway, the movie offers the audience some fine acting, especially by the boy actor performing the thankless role of Thomas. The movie also contains not one but two female acting legends, in the persons of Catherine Deneuve (as the boy's mother) and Danielle Darrieux (as the boy's maternal grandmother). Both ladies give fine performances, too.
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