Monsieur Hire (1989)

 “Young girls can be so unpredictable.”

Based on the Georges Simenon novel The Engagement, Monsieur Hire from director Patrice Leconte is a dark tale of isolation and obsession. Set in modern Paris, the film begins with ominous sounds set against a dark, blank screen–birds caw, a train rushes past in the distance, a car pulls up, and we hear footsteps. Then we see the body of a young girl sprawled on the ground. The police inspector (Andre Wilms) in charge of the murder investigation seems to feel regret at the death of such a beautiful young girl. To him, her death is “an error.” At one point when the girl’s body is in the morgue, there’s a moment when it appears as though he may even lovingly and longingly kiss the dead lips of the murder victim, Pierette.

monsieur-hireIt should, therefore, come as no surprise that the inspector takes the death of Pierette somewhat personally and that he takes a hostile approach to his suspect. Very soon after the body is discovered suspicion falls on Monsieur Hire (Michel Blanc) a middle-aged man who lives alone in a small flat right next to the plot of empty land where Pierette’s body was found. This is a working-class neighbourhood, and somehow Hire seems out of place. Hire has no friends and leads a solitary life–going back and forth to work where he keeps a few pet mice.

Hire is a creature of habit. Everything in his flat is kept neat and clean. A slight figure, middle-aged, balding, and wearing a long black coat, he stands out as a detested, strange figure in the noisy neighbourhood he lives in. While it is the inspector’s job to dig around and turn up clues, Hire’s manner draws suspicion. Not only is he disliked by everyone in the neighbourhood, but he’s also anti-social and averse to the inspector’s questions. While most people would at least pretend to comply with the police investigation, Hire makes a point of insulting the inspector. When ugly details about Hire’s past emerge, it seems possible that Hire may the murderer.

Each night, Monsieur Hire indulges his voyeuristic tendencies by watching a young woman named Alice (Sandrine Bonnaire) in the opposite flat. He has a perfect view, and watches many intimate moments–until one night she spots him staring at her. Most women would run, scream, call the police or buy curtains–but not Alice, she approaches Hire very tentatively, and so their sad and bizarre relationship begins.

Love is so rarely sensible and this is exemplified by the tragic love triangle that emerges. Alice is in love with a young hood named Emile, and while she is fully aware that the relationship is one-sided, she acknowledges that she loves enough “for both.” So while Alice loves a man who’s unworthy of her, Hire is passionately devoted to a woman who disregards him.

Michel Blanc is one of France’s finest actors. He doesn’t get the roles of the romantic leads. He usually gets the character parts, and in this film, he really shows how talented he is. Blanc plays a frozen, stunted human being whose loneliness cannot be breached easily. While Hire longs for human contact, he also loathes and fears intimacy. Blanc conveys all this with tremendous skill.

The films of Patrice Leconte often explore the unusual and difficult-to-define relationships that occur between human beings. These are the relationships that occur by accident (Intimate Strangers, Man on a Train), or the ephemeral relationships based on fantasy (The Hairdresser’s Husband, Rue de Plaisirs). Monsieur Hire with its subdued eroticism is one of Leconte’s finest and most controlled films. The excellent and haunting musical score is by Michael Nyman.

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Filed under France, Patrice Leconte

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