Category Archives: Patrice Leconte

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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My Best Friend (2006)

 “Some people can’t play sports. I can’t make friends.”

my-best-friendMy Best Friend, from director Patrice Leconte, is a comedy about self-focused antique dealer Francois Coste (Daniel Auteuil). Middle-aged Francois is divorced and has a casual, emotionless relationship with a girlfriend, and he’s the business partner with lesbian Catherine (Julie Gayet). The film presents three social situations that collectively sum up Francois’s life–a funeral, an auction, and a dinner with business acquaintances.

When the film begins, Francois attends the funeral of another antique dealer and notes a mere 7 people attend the ceremony (and that includes the man’s widow). Later that day, Francois and Catherine attend an auction together, and here Francois rather impulsively buys a Greek vase for 200,000 Euros from the 5th century B.C. The vase comes with a story–apparently it was made to commemorate the death of a friend.

Catherine is annoyed by the purchase of the vase. The gallery doesn’t have the money to float this sort of purchase the vase, unless Francois turns it over quickly with a profit. To her surprise, Francois admits that he wants to keep the vase himself, and he ignores the fact that he’s not exactly working in unison with his partner on this deal, or that he’s jeopardizing their business in his selfish pursuit. Things come to a head that evening at a restaurant when Catherine challenges Francois to produce a ‘best friend’ within 10 days, and with the vase as the prize to the winner, Francois begins a hunt to find a friend. It isn’t long before he hooks up with gregarious taxi driver, Bruno (Dany Boon). This scenario opens up many episodes of clumsy attempts by Francois to make friends.

While on the surface, Bruno seems to be the sort of person who makes friends easily (hence Francois employs him to give lessons), in reality, he’s not much better off then Francois. The difference between the two men is that Bruno makes an effort, and is genuinely interested in people. Francois, on the other hand has a tendency (like most of us) to confuse acquaintances with true friendship. But both Bruno and Francois are terribly lonely people. The difference is that Francois doesn’t really understand that until he’s confronted with the notion of how many people would show up to his funeral.

My Best Friend is a change of pace for Leconte. With the impressive Widow of St Pierre, The Hairdresser’s Husband, The Girl on the Bridge, Intimate Strangers and Monsieur Hire in his past, My Best Friend–with its warm and fuzzy, clichéd moments, is much lighter fare. I prefer Auteuil in serious roles (Heart in Winter, The Elegant Criminal, Sade), but if you have to stick him in a comedy, at least give him one of those dastardly comedy roles. My Best Friend is a decent film, lighthearted with strains of meaning (what is life all about, etc), but for this Leconte fan, it doesn’t come close to some of previous films.

Cineaste interview with Leconte:

http://www.cineaste.com/articles/making-friends-the-hard-way.htm

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Man on the Train (2002)

 “Why’s sweetness so dangerous?”

The films of French director Patrice Leconte focus on unusual, non-definable relationships. In the film Man on the Train, the unusual relationship is between retired poetry teacher, Manesquier (Jean Rochefort) and aging criminal Milan (Johnny Hallyday). The lives of these two men intersect, quite by accident, in a chemist shop. Milan wants aspirin, and Manesquier offers to give him a drink of water at his beautiful country home.

man-on-the-trainThe two vastly different men realise that they actually have a fair amount in common, and over the course of a few days, they exchange certain guarded confidences. It is particularly difficult for Milan to relax and accept Manesquier as a fellow member of the human race, but gradually, a wary trust begins to build. For a brief time, they allow themselves a glimpse of each other’s lives–and both men play with the idea of what their lives could have been if their choices were different.

The entire film rests on the idea that the relationship between these two different men is believable. To be honest, for the first part of the film, I was not convinced, but as the film reveals more about the characters–Manesquier in particular–then my disbelief vanished. I understood why Manesquier took the chance of allowing a rather shady character into his home. I particularly loved the ending of the film–and I was left with the sort of feeling I always have after watching a Patrice Leconte film–a feeling that I’ve been allowed to see something quite rare and fleeting. Jean Rochefort is a veteran of French cinema, and his performance is, as always, superb. Hallyday, a French musician, was great as the rough around-the-edges bank robber–a man whose life might have been very different if only he’d been dealt a different hand. If you enjoyed this film, I heartily recommend tracking down copies of Leconte’s other films. They are all masterpieces of French cinema.

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Intimate Strangers (2004)

 “What to declare and what to hide.”

In Intimate Strangers, William (Fabrice Luchini), a Parisian tax lawyer, is at the end of his working day, when an attractive young woman named Anna arrives claiming that she has an appointment. Expecting the usual presentation of tax problems, William is both shocked and intrigued when Anna (Sandrine Bonnaire) begins to weepily unburden herself with a litany of marital woes. At first, William is too stunned to respond, but then it dawns on him that Anna think he’s the psychiatrist, Dr. Monnier (Michel Duchaussoy), two doors down. At this point, William should do the ethical thing and reveal that Anna is in the wrong office. But he doesn’t … instead he makes an appointment with Anna for the following week.

intimate-strangersFlirting with guilt, William approaches an old girlfriend, Jeanne (Anne Brochet) and explains his dilemma. She’s horrified by William’s lack of forthrightness, and she senses that William is attracted to Anna, and that’s why he’s reluctant to come clean.

While William struggles with his dilemma, Anna discovers the truth, but then she begins to show up for ‘chats’ anyway. The film explores the relationship between William and Anna–they now have no doctor-patient professional bond, and they’re not exactly friends. William’s disapproving secretary, Madame Mulon (Helene Surgere) is dying to get to the bottom of the relationship. With a strong Freudian approach, the film focuses on both William and Anna’s contrasting backgrounds, and the appeal they hold for each other becomes increasingly clear. The film’s delicate and ironic humour casts William–a man who’s never, ever stepped out of line in his life–suddenly in a delectably untenable position. Is his own life so anemic that he’s now become an armchair emotional vampire addicted to Anna’s salacious confidences? And what about Anna’s role? Does she just need a friendly (free) shoulder to cry on, or is something darker afoot? …

Luchini is one of my favourite French actors, and his ability to act with just his facial expressions fits the role of William very well. This is a role in which William is supposed to listen, and Luchini’s control over his facial expressions is–as always–quite extraordinary. As a fan of director Patrice Leconte’s work, I consider Hairdresser’s Husband, Monsieur Hire, The Widow of St Pierre, Girl of the Bridge some of the best films I’ve ever seen. One of Leconte’s favourite themes is the emotional distance between people whose ability to truly communicate and bridge these distances is usually adversely affected by the emotional scars of life. Can the emotional distance between people be bridged, and if it cannot, does it matter? Can an unconventional relationship with inherent emotional distances between the participants still exist? Intimate Strangers (Confidences Trop Intimes) explores these questions through the main characters. This film is NOT a romance, and to see it as such is to underestimate its message. Discard the idea of a romance, and consider the final scene. In French with English subtitles.

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Filed under Fabrice Luchini, France, Patrice Leconte

Love Street (2002)

 “But dreams have to be paid for sooner or later.”

The films of French director Patrice Leconte specialize in examining difficult, obsessive and unusual relationships, and the film Love Street (AKA Rue des Plaisirs) focuses on the relationship between a beautiful prostitute Marion (Laetitia Casta) and Petit Louis (Patrick Timsit), a man who loves her.

love-streetWhen the film begins, Petit Louis–the child of a prostitute–grows up in an exotic brothel called “The Oriental Palace.” As a small boy, he lingers in the dressing rooms of the prostitutes, fascinated by their lingerie, nylons and perfumes, and when the women ask him what he wants to do with his life when he grows up, he always answers, “I’ll take care of a woman.”

Louis is already in middle age when the woman he eventually chooses to care for arrives at the Oriental Palace. It’s towards the end of the WWII, and business is booming. Marion is a beautiful, sad prostitute, and Louis’s goal in life is to find Marion a man who will take her away from the brothel and give her a normal life. This goal is practical in one sense–there’s a likelihood that the brothels will be closed by the government, but Louis also wants to create a fairy-tale existence for Marion by bringing her “true love” and perfect happiness. Louis becomes obsessed with finding the right man for Marion, and although she’s skeptical at first, she soon becomes obsessed and involved with the plan. A young man named Dimitri (Vincent Elbaz) catches Louis’s attention, and he arranges for the pair to meet. Unfortunately, Dimitri is not a perfect choice–he double-crossed a fellow black marketeer, and he’s a hunted man.

The story of Marion, Dimitri and Petit Louis is mainly told by two prostitutes to a third as they stand huddled under umbrellas in the rain. This device renders a fable-like quality to the love story, and this is enhanced by the use of ‘newsreel’ depicting Dimitri’s crimes. Louis’s guileless devotion to Marion knows no bounds, and while he loves her, it’s an unselfish love based on worship. If you’re unfamiliar with the films of Patrice Leconte, you may find the film a little peculiar. But for fans of Leconte, Love Street fits nicely with the director’s other films. Louis’s relationship with Marion is as obsessive as the relationship depicted in The Hairdresser’s Husband–another male worship of females based in childhood fantasies. The character of Petit Louis is reminiscent of the solitary man in Monsieur Hire–although Monsieur Hire could never get close to a woman, and Petit Louis is surrounded by them. Love Street contains some beautiful cinematic shots of the lovers Marion and Dimitri embracing against picturesque Parisian backgrounds, and while Love Street is not as complex as other Leconte films, it’s still a must-see for fans. In French with English subtitles.

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