After fifteen years' service, Henri Boulanger is made redundant from his job. Shocked, he attempts suicide, but can't go through with it, so he hires a contract killer in a seedy bar to ...
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After fifteen years' service, Henri Boulanger is made redundant from his job. Shocked, he attempts suicide, but can't go through with it, so he hires a contract killer in a seedy bar to murder him at some unspecified time in the future. But almost immediately he meets and falls in love with Margaret, a flower-seller, which makes Henri realise that his life has some meaning after all. But when he goes back to the bar to cancel the contract, he finds it has been demolished - and there's no way he can get in touch with the killer...Written by
Michael Brooke <email@example.com>
"I Hired a Contract Killer" unites on the same crossroad two helpless and persistent souls of the world cinema, working with a plot that suits them almost perfectly: director/writer Aki Kaurismaki and actor Jean-Pierre Léaud. I include the latter not much because of his real persona but mostly due to his most commonly associated character, the troubled Antoine Doinel, which in a way could be a figure of a Kaurismaki film and the director takes some advantage of that to make Léaud be part of his strange yet dark humored vignettes involving helpless characters dealing with meaningless lives until they find exquisite solutions for their problems.
The eternal Doinel, usually confident and striving for a certain goal (as evidenced in his later adventures post "The 400 Blows"), gives space to Henri Boulanger, a French subordinate working on a bureaucratic position at a British company, utterly lost and alone, until the day he gets fired from there, receiving as a gift a broken gold watch. With the money he still has, he decides to hire a hit-man to kill him since he's too yellow to kill himself. Why bother sticking around now that he really hit rock bottom, with no job, no people who care for him and being just another foreigner living in a cold and distant place.
But the man who brought us "Ariel" and "Shadows in Paradise" has to give Henri a turn-around that can save his life and also complicates things even more. He falls for a flower girl (Margi Clarke) who corresponds such love, they move in together, despite the fact he has nothing to offer to her but the hired killer (Kenneth Corley) is still tracking him down and he is destined to fulfill his contract and kill Henri. Typical of Kaurismaki, who always finds humor in desolated characters and awkward situations. Everything is strangely life affirming without getting near the corny clichés of Hollywood.
The union between Kaurismaki and Léaud is the main ingredient to enjoy such story, not as dark as it sounds but eventually nightmarish as Henri's problems becomes more and more unnerving (hilarious to some, but we all know that Aki's films are only amusing to very few who can actually laugh out loud - though that's not the director's intentions, he prefers the contained laughters). It's interesting to see Léaud becoming the anti-Doinel, here someone who is far removed from any chance of accomplishing anything, always escaping and giving up easily. But fate helps them both, in unexpected and intriguing ways. And we laugh at their confusion while facing the obstacles life throws at them.
Compared with other Kaurismaki films I've seen and Doinel's five films, "I Hired a Contract Killer" is miles away of being equally great as the fore-mentioned examples. And for the first time I identified more with the drama than with the comedy since most of the elements given were too hollow and so narrow with the drama that I couldn't find them much funny - characteristic of the Finnish creator but more effective in his other films. Another downer was having to deal with Léaud's poor English, practically impossible to understand. Why not make Henri meeting with a French girl, so there could be a real sense of connection between both (and captions so we can read instead of hearing forced accents)? Aside that, there's room for some fine suspense and a great musical cameo by Joe Strummer.
What's to be learned? With Doinel films I feel hope, courage and the sense that things can get better, even with some losses on the way. Now, with Henri's story, I know things can get worse but we can always push harder for one more day and see what happens next. A very needed film in darker times, because we all need to laugh at the absurd. 7/10
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