Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

alain delon Archive

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August 2020

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Classic Film: The Widow Couderc

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

The thought of stumbling upon another family’s internal drama is quite frightening, yet this dynamic supplies much of the fodder for reality television. To watch others hurl proverbial feces at each other can evoke a certain desire to turn inward, to take stock of one’s own life and character. Decades away from any installments of The Real Housewives, 1971’s The Widow Couderc (original French title La veuve Couderc) strikes at the messy nature of family relationships.

Jean (Alain Delon) is a simple man trying to escape from prison. A quiet village next to a canal in Burgundy offers a place to lie low from the police, where Jean finds work in the service of an older woman named Tati (Simone Signoret). Tati doesn’t have much to call her own besides the roof over her head, land coveted by her late husband’s family. For Jean, caught between Tati and her young niece Félicie (Ottavia Piccolo), the feud invites the kind of attention he’d be wise to avoid.

Much of the film is fueled by the sexual tension between Delon and Signoret, two immensely talented actors who bring out the best in each other. Both are on the run in a way, Jean more literally than Tati, two souls desperate for more than what life has to offer. Neither one of them are particularly good people, both using Félicie as a foil for their worst instincts, but the film presents a compelling perspective on logic clashing with desire.

The sleepy canal town, with a manually operated drawbridge, functions as a town in its own right. Hardly a place anyone would wish to visit, the quiet community only comes alive when something dares to disrupt its peaceful existence. Property is fought over not because it’s valuable, but seemingly because there’s nothing else for one to occupy their time with. The drama fills the void.

The Widow Couderc is a contemplative narrative, one more concerned with raising questions than presenting answers. The acting is top notch, with Delon and Signoret in peak form. We often don’t get to pick the circumstances in our lives, only the way we choose to react. Decisions don’t always need to make sense, reflective of the humanity that guides us for better or for worse.

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Thursday

14

May 2020

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Classic Film: Un Flic

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

Jean-Pierre Melville’s final film is a tough nut to crack. There are parts of Un Flic that feel oddly undeveloped, the product of a director less concerned with plot than the broader themes the narrative spends its time exploring. For a master of the medium, sometimes that’s okay.

The narrative follows a robbery and its aftermath. Simon (Richard Crenna) leads the gang in their efforts to carry out of their thievery while Detective Coleman (Alain Delon) works the case. At the center of their feud is Cathy (Catherine Deneuve), Simon’s mistress who flirts with Coleman. The story and character relationships often exist on two different planes, simultaneously distant and intimate.

The film’s great triumph is a lengthy heist sequence in the second half, where Simon boards a train via helicopter to rob a rival gang of their heroin. Melville pulls off a fantastic technical feat for a film made in 1972, using minimal dialogue while maintaining an intense level of suspense. For a director making his last feature, Un Flic would be worth a watch just for the craftsmanship.

While the heist sequence is the best part of the film, it does come at a broader cost to the narrative. Stealing heroin from a rival gang has practically nothing to do with Un Flic’s broader story. Taking a twenty-minute detour out of a hundred-minute runtime does hinder the character development quite a bit.

Melville creates a rather interesting dynamic where the film operates largely without a protagonist. Coleman appears too infrequently to fit the bill, a gruff man with practically no personality beyond Delon’s irresistible charm. Simon is sort of like an anti-hero, except Melville doesn’t really provide a reason to root for him.

Some of this is rational is explained through the film’s tagline, “The only feelings mankind has ever inspired in policemen are those of indifference and derision.” Coleman isn’t in pursuit of justice, a man who acts oddly cruel to a transgender woman for no apparent reason. He’s stoic without the obvious desire for justice that drives many detectives in film.

Melville concerns himself with very complex themes in Un Flic while keeping the narrative mostly at the surface. It’s not a particularly deep film, though the kind that’s bound to keep you thinking long after the credits roll. It is not Melville’s best work.

Narratives are tricky beast. There’s only so much time for a director to explore contemplative themes once considerations to story and character are given. Melville skimps on those in Un Flic in favor of headier ambitions. He doesn’t always succeed, but the film is worth watching if only to see a master of the craft at work with his thoughts.

 

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