Bertrand Tavernier ,arguably the greatest French director alive has upgraded many Gilles Grangier's movies , he notably wrote on his site that "au petit zouave" needed reassessment.All one can do is approve of his judgement.
It confirms his theory : a film ,be it noir, should not succumb to what he calls "dictatorship of the plot" ...
A serial killer is at large ...They call him "the assassin with the bottle of milk" ,because he leaves one of these things near his victims....
But this assassin works behind the scenes ; he may be a habitué of a café which also rents rooms for tenents or....used by prostitute Olga.Like Carné's "hôtel du nord" or Clouzot 's "l'assassin habite au 21" ,everything takes place in or around the "Au P'tit zouave" café ; and Grangier ,helped by brilliant screenwriter Pierre Laroche , perfectly depicts the atmosphere of the place : the card players , the owner who's got a crush on his goldfish in a bowl , his wife who cuddles her kitten , Olga the prostitute and her pimp -who wants to "get her out of the game "-, the lovely lonely girl,the shady old man who wants to hire her ,but not only to work (the scene is almost scary ,as Henri Crémieux' face is filmed in close-up), the handsome writer who seems out of place in this working-class café.
Gilles Grangier's directing is effective ,from the cast and credits over a metro which belts through Paris to the final scene ,where the radio repairman ,fresh from the sanatorium ,comes back to the café and proudly checks that the set is always working (announcing that the killer got caught after a lot of crimes)) ; displaying a great sense of (black) humor,the café owner answers there's worse than that.
Greatest scene :The writer (François Périer),threatened by Lambert (Jacques Morel )armed with a revolver,manages to work the situation to his advantage,without any violence ...and terrifies his opponent who hurries downstairs.
The would be conventional Dany Robin/François Périer love affair challenges all the clichés.
Trust Mister Taverneir when it comes to finding true old French gems!
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