Friday, March 05, 2010

Underrated Movie #48: Monsieur Hire

Title: Monsieur Hire
Year: 1989
Director: Patrice Leconte (The Girl on the Bridge)
Writers: Patrice Leconte and Patrick DeWolf, based on a novel by Georges Simenon
Stars: Michel Blanc, Sandrine Bonnaire (La Ceremonie)

The Story: A woman has been killed and the police suspect an antisocial, middle-aged man who likes to spy on his beautiful young next-door neighbor. But just when we start to worry about the object of his gaze, she turns the tables on her voyeur and takes control of the situation.

How it Came to be Underrated: Leconte’s career is still going strong, and he’s one of the few French directors whose films routinely get released in the States, but he’s never become a household name over here. It doesn’t help his recognition factor that he keeps migrating through different genres, mastering each one and then moving on. What his films always have in common, however, is a heartbreaking romanticism.

Why It’s Great:

  1. Americans are hopelessly neurotic about sex, so we demand our movies either demonize it or worship it. Leconte, on the other hand, is able to take a more nuanced view, shown by the audience’s complex relationship with Bonnaire. She is an object of desire with desires of her own, both wanted and wanting, both victim and vicitmizer.
  2. Hitchcock convinced us that the only mode for making thrillers was his own cool detachment. Leconte clearly loves Hitchcock, but he incorporates Hitch’s tricks into a different tradition. Leconte’s camera is more subjective and more intense. The initial Hitchcockian sang froid gets subtly steamier until it succumbs to the hothouse of the characters’ obsessions.
  3. This is a very simple story, efficiently told, with a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it running time of 79 minutes. There is precisely one real twist, placed at the exact midpoint of the film. This sort of streamlined, elegant structure is only possible if you have total faith in your actors to convey everything with their glances. Luckily, Blanc and Bonnaire are both masters of the bottomless stare.
  4. 1989 is on record as one of the worst years for fashion in the history of the world, so how can everything look so stylish? I know that the French can dress poorly when they really want to, but apparently, they can also shrug off the bad instincts of their peers at any time and rediscover a more classic, timeless style underneath. There’s hardly a sweater or perm in sight.

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Film buffs are only now starting to rediscover all the great French crime films of the ‘80s. Diva is even more stylish than this one, albeit a little bit more dated. Garde a Vue is another elegant little thriller about a pitiful man under suspicion.

How Available Is It?: It’s on dvd again, after being unavailable for a time.

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