L’Adversaire (2002)

 “All the good and evil I did was for you.”

In the French film, L’Adversaire Jean-Marc Faure (Daniel Auteuil) appears to be a highly successful man. According to Jean-Marc, his wife, Christine (Geraldine Pailhas), family and friends, he’s a successful doctor employed by the World Health Organization (WHO). Jean-Marc lives in Northern France and supposedly commutes to his office in the WHO building, in Geneva, Switzerland. In reality, Jean-Marc never finished medical school, and he spends his days hanging out at the WHO building doing research through public access records and trying to crash conferences. His life as a jet-setting doctor is funded by the savings of family members and friends who let him ‘invest’ their money for them. Jean-Marc’s fantasy world comes crashing down to earth when various investors start demanding their money and the 18% per annum interest he promised.

When the film begins, Jean-Marc and his family live in a cramped flat, and he drives an old car. Encouraged by his wife who can’t understand why they live so modestly, he purchases a large house. Under increasing financial strain, Jean-Marc can no longer keep up his lifestyle and he erupts into increasingly bizarre behaviour. Using flashbacks, the film travels back and forth in time as friends and acquaintances are questioned by police. The police want to know if Jean-Marc’s behaviour ever left hints of the lies. And the friends’ memories form the pieces of the puzzle.

Daniel Auteuil fans know just how great an actor he is, and the role of Jean-Marc is perfect for Auteuil’s understated, quiet screen presence. Auteuil is extremely convincing in the role, and this may be the greatest role of Auteuil’s career, but at the same time, the character is deeply unsettling. Jean-Marc is a ‘hollow man’ who dons the persona of a doctor as one dons a costume. He vacillates back and forth between mute detachment and euphoric behaviour when he buys objects for himself or for his family. It’s clear, however, that he’s most comfortable when lecturing others about the politics of the medical profession, and during these moments, he comes to life. A strong sense of foreboding and impending doom builds as his lies unravel. Jean-Marc’s wife, Christine is another fascinating character, and there are moments when she clearly is suspicious, but turns away from her doubt. Even Jean-Marc’s best friend and colleague Luc (Francois Cluzet) from medical school doesn’t suspect the truth, and this is remarkable.

The film’s initial premise reminded me of another excellent French film, Timeout but L’Adversaire is chilling and ultimately is a much darker tale. “L’Adversaire” is based on the true-life story of Jean-Claude Romand–a man who posed as a successful doctor for 18 years. Romand is now serving a life sentence for his crimes, and author Emmanuel Carrere’s book goes into further detail of this horrific story. The film is in French with English subtitles.

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Filed under Daniel Auteuil, France

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