Voici le temps des assassins (1956)

24 06 2009

A pretty significant step backwards from the greatness of Maria Chapdelaine, this is, nevertheless, a pretty impressive (late) effort from Duvivier. Dramatically, it starts out rather simplistic and easy going with an almost Ozu-like sense of pace, but as it delves deeper and deeper into “film noir” territory, the story becomes more and more absurd. Ultimately, its the great Jean Gabin that saves the film from the pitfalls of a far too plotty script. There’s not much that will convert the less than enthusiastic to Duvivier’s cinematic world, but it is a decent way to spend two hours.

1

Gabin, now an ideal actor for “wise old men” roles, plays André, a successful restaurant owner in Paris. His life is fairly repetitious, but he does not seemed to be bothered by this. Instead, he is extremely content with not only his business but his way of living. One day, a young girl by the name of Catherine stops into the restaurant. She tells André that she is the daughter of his ex-wife, Gabrielle, and that said ex-wife recently died. He gives Catherine a place to stay and even a job at the restaurant. André has some alternative motives with his actions, though. He’s hoping to set Catherine up with his much younger friend, Gérard. Catherine is uninterested, and instead devotes her attention to André.

The father-daughter complex displayed between André and Catherine represents Duvivier’s film at its most subtle and nuanced. Their relationship, though created with a Hallmark-esque narrative turn, seems incredibly gentle and incredibly real. The story, and Duvivier’s style change drastically, though. As it turns out, Catherine is only interested in André’s money and their potential marriage is just a scheme mapped out by Catherine and Gabrielle, who is very much alive. The aforementioned echoes of Ozu from the first twenty minutes, become shades of Preminger and the Wilder of Double Indemnity.

As the narrative starts to constantly twist and turn, the film’s greatest strength begins to shine and that strength is Duvivier’s leading man. Gabin, in a way, is not unlike Randolph Scott. He’s the sort of male lead that almost inherently makes any film twenty times more enjoyable. Sure, this particular piece would be alright without him, but I’m not sure I would have watched it in the first place. The absurdity reached in the final minutes is off-putting at first, but it begins to resemble the craziness achieved in the conclusion of Walsh’s They Drive By Night. My love of Gabin aside, the ending is something everyone needs to see. The rest of the film is decent, but not mindblowing.

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One response

24 06 2009
DG

Oh I love this movie! Saw it at the cinematheque last year some time. Gabin is indeed the greatest ever but I also really liked the other performances and how dark the whole thing was. I think one of Duvivier’s greatest strengths is evoking a sense of place (or maybe he just has a great production designer?) – the restaurant and the area around it, the dirty rooming house, the road, everything is felt so intensely. Love it.

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