Thursday, January 14, 2010


The Director: Bertrand Tavernier (Round Midnight)

What Is It?: A French adaptation of sweaty-noir master Jim Sheridan's Pop. 1280, taken from the small town setting and reimagined in the dusty alleyways of 1938 North Africa.

The Experience: I was frothing a bit around the mouth to watch this one, waiting for Alex (my newly deemed Criterion Quest Companion) and sneaking in ten minutes here or twenty minutes there. Finally, Al played catch up and we just deliriously dove in head first.

Quick Notes:

1. Phillip Noiret, wow.

I don't know if I've seen a leading performance in a film as good as this one in years. I'm almost tempted not to talk about anything else but Mr. Noiret's performance as the bumbling-sheriff-turned-killed Lucien, as it stands out that much against an already incredible film. Lucien (Phillip Noiret) is a bumbling clown of a sheriff, a friendly, likable, punching bag of a gentleman more prone to cracking jokes than to arresting, let alone shooting a "criminal." There's something about Noiret's performance that makes me think of a silent-film slapstick clown. He's bumbling and funny, but riddled with sadness and well, vengeful violence. When Lucien is pushed just one step too far, he takes up a quest to rid the streets of his small French West African colony of what he deems "trash." As he embarks on a quest to extinguish and embarrass those who've done him wrong, director Bertrand Tavernier ably peels back the many, many layers of this put-upon detective, and Noiret's emergence as an avenging angel of death is one for the books. At times hilarious, at times dark, Noiret manages what I thought impossible, that not only did I feel for this corpulent policeman gone mad, but I was rooting for him. Even as the film dips in to looney-bin territory and poor Lucien is obviously not acting in a sane manner, I felt pulled, I felt stretched morally, because I still wanted to back up my man Lucien, even if he was tricking folk in to killing each other and generally being an evil evil man. 'Cause Noiret is that good. He's lovable from minute one, even when he's dispatching witnesses with a shotgun. Even when he's ranting about the inherent goodness of his despicable actions. Even when he's breaking all moral boundaries just to make himself feel better, I was completely in his corner. And any actor who can do that is one for the ages. Mr. Noiret I tip my battered Sherlock Holmes hat in your distinguished direction.

2. That's a fast-paced camera.

What's great about adapting older books in to modern movies (Coup de Torchon (106) was made in 1981) is that you're not hampered by the technology of the time. Thus, Tavernier is a man on a mission in terms of Steadycam. For those who didn't major in Film & Rhetoric at Whitman College, Steadycam is a harness worn around one's body that allows you to create long tracking shots without the bumps, bustles, and general annoyance of setting up a dolly. What's a dolly? Oh nevermind. Nonetheless, Tavernier uses the moving camera as a way to make us not just audience members, but parts of the film. The camera zooms in during the middle of a shot, as if the actions have already been set in to motion and we're coming on to the scene amidst the chaos. There's a general feeling of collapse in this film, and Tavernier brings us in and out of that collapse with this swooping Steadycam shots. We're not just watching Rose run in to the house, we're right on her heels. Her anger is our anger, her panic our panic and it draws us in to the film in an almost nauseating way.

3. This film is actually funny.

Seriously, a lot of people die in this film, in a variety of brutal ways, but somehow, this film is still pretty funny. And when I say "funny", I don't mean slipping on banana peels or dick 'n' fart jokes, I mean black macabre morbidity "humor". These are laughs related to people dying and people getting fucked over and people in general just breaking down in the dusty streets of a sun-baked town in French West Africa. Strangely though, you'll laugh because the screws in your brain and turned so tight, a chuckle here and there is the only thing that'll ease the pressure. You'll giggle, and feel bad, chortle and feel awful. You'll guffaw to yourself as you question your moral standing. Why does death make you laugh? Huh, why? And that's the beauty of this movie, we're losing our moral high ground just as quickly as Lucien is redefining his.

Final Thoughts: Couldn't have been more pleased by this film. My expectations were high as a kite and Tavernier and crew knocked it over the Green Monster.

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