19 September 2022 15:50
The cinema of today, author or otherwise, perhaps frightened by the success of the series, generally based on a work primarily of screenplay, pays too much attention to the plots, the narrative mechanisms, and too little to the expression of the inner dimension obtained through a work on direction and photography, based on empathy, or in any case on atmospheres. They are formats, often aseptic. Two upcoming films, both French, are moving away from it, and above all the title with which we open this double review is even the opposite.
Maigretwhich Adler entertainment brought to theaters on September 15, marks the return of the over seventy-year-old and prolific Patrice Leconte behind the camera after several years of hiatus (All crazy in my houseof 2014, the last film released) with a work that refers to the first part of his filmography, to titles such as The hairdresser’s husband (1990) and the masterpiece The unusual case of Mr Hire (1989) for formal modalities, tone, atmospheres and partly for the themes. All the more true for The unusual case of Mr Hireremaking of Panic (1946) by the great Julien Duvivier and also, like this one, adaptations of a book by Georges Simenon (Mr. Hire’s betrothal, of 1933). The two films are close in terms of themes – young women murdered in the literal and figurative sense – as well as for this humid, rarefied, suspended and muffled atmosphere, almost closed in on itself. His Maigret – in whose shoes we find an intense Gerard Depardieu as we have not seen him for some time – it is not an atmosphere film. Rather, it is a concentrate of atmospheres, a film that almost seems to have become a biological organism of them so much it is impregnated with them.
In a not so distant time the entire cinema was intense in the atmosphere, just like real places, were bars, restaurants, dance halls, night clubs, perhaps smoky. But the amount of “fog” caused by cigarette smoke seemed proportional to the intensity of the atmosphere of those places, to their being characteristic. Art cinema was and even before Hollywood cinema, which at the time was also less attentive to the importance of plots: to give an example, let’s think of a small film like Paris blues (1961) by Martin Ritt, focused on the competition, both musical and amorous, between two jazz musicians from a Parisian club, one white (Paul Newman) and one black (Sidney Poitier), engaged in conquering two young American tourists. Removed from this basic structure, it is essentially based on faces, acting, atmospheres, arousing and giving prominence to a form of poetry whose plot was the vehicle, the Trojan horse.
The Paris that was
And French popular cinema was equally imbued with atmospheres – in truth at the time perhaps the largest in Europe – which nourished the spectator’s interiority by contaminating him, if we can say so, with narratives that somehow conveyed abstraction rather than points. reference point too certain and obvious. It was often a social cinema, without however having the pose. From that of Jean Renoir – author of at least two films directly expression of the popular Front season – passing precisely through that of a Julien Duvivier to the poetic realism of a Marcel Carné, who, often paired with the poet Jacques Prévert, produced some of the masterpieces of French cinema, works such as Lost lovers (1945), almost better known by its original title of children of paradiseo The port of the mists (1938), a cinema of which the actor Jean Gabin was both an emblem for the popular classes and an incarnation of the latter.
Leconte moves on a very subtle balance in a short film with a dry but very pleasant narration
And from the port fogs of Carné to the gray if not leaden humidity of the Seine di Leconte it is a short step. The director, freely adapting Simenon’s novel Maigret and the dead girl (1954), represents a Paris that was and at the same time timeless, almost a world unto itself, another world or suspended limbo, if not a sort of afterlife. The characters seem almost all already dead, as if they were observed from the outside by a visitor of our time, despite being full of life – the girls – or of a painful love for life, even if not explicit – Maigret and his wife, who it makes few but significant appearances.
Leconte moves on a very subtle balance in a short film with a dry but very pleasant narration. Maigret is the commissioner we know, sober and observer of every little detail, since life, just like art, is made up of details, of nuances that can change everything in the appearance of things.
We mentioned the girls. In the film there are in fact many young women, those from the province who for decades, up to the fifties, perhaps sixties, of the last century came to Paris, in the big city, in search of fortune, of a different and better life. Perhaps shrewd, perhaps naive, perhaps both. But what is certain is that they had no small chance of ending badly, when not murdered. Who killed the young woman found dead in the Seine, stabbed several times? With what dynamics and motivations?
The worst humidity
As in the story of Mr. Hire, novel and film, we have a sort of reverse narrative: the dead woman may not have been murdered and yet she is perhaps the cover of something shady and in the end it was still a form of murder. Photograph of the secret orgies in the male, of the ambivalence in the female, the condemnation of the bourgeoisie and of the levels of ugliness it can reach is nevertheless clear, and in so doing the film ends up in some way resonating with the contemporary and the movement of the #Metoo.
And this despite the fact that we are in a past that sticks to the viewer like the worst humidity. With the difference that the pleasure is instead great, pleasure to which apparently simpler elements contribute, such as continuous and very beautiful glimpses, as a painter, of a Paris by now of the memory, a memory that is as close to the ghost as to the phantom, true and dreamed at the same time. In this dual dimension it is fundamental Depardieu who, while embodying an extremely physical being, seems already (pre) destined to fade, tired more than by everyday life by the awareness of life mortified by (in) humans.
A being who, carrying with him the ancient specter of excruciating personal pain, walks like a ghost within this limbo perpetually immersed in the blue-gray. The plot is important, compelling, but Leconte transcends it by working on a mannered film form to the extreme as to create an “other”, static world, where academia and experimentation become almost indistinguishable. However, a world dominated by intense environments and characters, and in some ways, in this, speculating to a genre writer like Simenon who was re-evaluated – even by personalities like André Gide – precisely because he transcended the codes of the genre and worked masterfully on environments and strong characters.
Maigret’s pain is as subdued as his modesty is great. And in restoring the future to a young woman who tries unsuccessfully to seduce him but at the same time clings to him as a father, he finally becomes a father, perhaps for a while, perhaps already in fading just as ephemeral human existence is. In this film of ghosts in search of life, if life is resurrected it is perhaps because everything is reversed but in the right way, because for once – unlike Hire – in the end everything becomes straight, the reverse of the wrong. And without rhetoric. Like Maigret.
On the contrary, we find another film focused on women, even if there is no shortage of men. Here too the atmospheres are important, but the film is well immersed in the contemporary and directed by a woman, Rebecca Zlotowski, French director on her fifth feature film who also signs the screenplay. Others’ children, which Europictures will be bringing to the theaters from 22 September and presented this year in competition in Venice, makes otherness the norm. The students of the high school in which the protagonist, the girl of the new partner, teaches about being single and being a mother, adoptive mother and biological mother, being a white Frenchman and being with a French man of Maghrebi origins, being a friend of a sick woman mother of a daughter who is not her own, to face mourning while releasing life with the maximum of energy. What an effort to put together all this. The one outlined by Zlotowski is really a beautiful female character – like all the others – and the film overdose of a festival like Venice seems to have led us to underestimate him.
Marked by some glossy formalism typical of a certain French auteur cinema, however, it dares to adopt solutions that are out of sync with it as with so much contemporary cinema. Along an important segment, the film envelops, envelops the viewer with strong atmospheres, warm lights, elegant camera movements, panoramic views of landscapes, and the viewer practically does not notice the important, serious themes that it deals with. In the face of an almost absent plot and a strong dose of abstraction, the film flows pleasantly while the environments and characters are outlined. Then the plot emerges, and for the protagonist this amounts to a brutal transcending herself towards others, going through pain with the utmost empathy. By becoming a wife and mother to the nth degree she reaches the greatness of the human tout-court.