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Monsieur Hire, 1989

BlancPatrice Leconte's Monsieur Hire is a deeply affecting portrait of the dark side of obsession. Monsieur Hire (Michel Blanc) is a lonely, middle-aged tailor who has taken up the rather depraved pastime of watching his beautiful neighbor, Alice (Sandrine Bonnaire). Observing his demeanor, one can hardly call him a voyeur. It is as if he is more intrigued with the idea that she has a life, than what she is actually doing (There is a scene where he steps away from the window at an intimate moment). One stormy evening, she realizes that he is watching her, and the psychological game begins. Meanwhile, a young woman has been murdered, and a taxi driver has seen a nondescript man running toward the courtyard of the apartment complex. The police immediately suspect the inscrutable Monsieur Hire. He is subjected to the humiliating exercise of recreating the eyewitnessed episode in front of his neighbors. He takes solace in Alice, who finally confronts him, but quickly forgives him, and seems to enjoy his company. Can she save him from his loneliness? Can he, at last, find happiness?

Leconte uses extremely wide angles for his character close-ups. Note the high aspect ratio of the subject to the screen. The effect is highly claustrophobic. It is as if we, ourselves, are voyeurs, watching his life unfold (or rather, disintegrate) before us. Perhaps we can see a subtle facial expression amidst his dour countenance that will explain his thoughts... or betray his heart. This technique expounds on the film's plot: as Monsieur Hire watches Alice, the police and his neighbors watch him. The story illustrates a sad truth: society's cruelty to people who do not conform. Monsieur Hire is a moving and subtly unsettling film, as profound in its message as it is thoroughly engrossing.

© Acquarello 1998. All rights reserved.

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La Fille sur le Pont, 1999
[The Girl on the Bridge]

ParadisAdele (Vanessa Paradis) recounts with resigned acceptance to a clinical psychologist her history of failed, impulsive relationships and run of bad luck. She is uncertain about the future, waiting for the elusive something to happen, and her instinctive response is to escape the absurdity of her situation. One evening, she stands on a bridge, mustering enough courage to jump, when she is approached by Gabor (Daniel Auteuil) with an intriguing proposition. Gabor is an experienced knife-thrower who recruits potential suicides to serve as assistants for his cabaret act. If the routine is successful, she will be fairly compensated. If he misses, Gabor will only be facilitating her own decision to end her life. For reassurance, Gabor further reveals that, at times, he has intentionally missed (or rather, hit his target) when he senses that an assistant's despair is beyond hope. The collaboration proves to be mutually beneficial, as Gabor and Adele begin to tour their popular act throughout Europe, often varying the routine with curtains, roulette wheels, or closed eyes. Soon, a profound connection develops between Gabor and Adele, communicating with each other across great distances and noisy casinos. But as the couple consummate their visceral attraction through intimately close and increasingly reckless knife throws, can they demonstrate their love without introducing an element of danger?

Patrice Leconte creates a visually intoxicating and highly sensual film on love, risk, and chance in The Girl on the Bridge. Using stylized short takes and frenetic jump cuts, Leconte reinforces the action of a thrown knife to create tension and charged energy, which, in turn, reflect Gabor and Adele's dangerous attraction. The surreal, carnival atmosphere of the film, reminiscent of Federico Fellini, creates a state of heightened, altered reality that thematically juxtaposes chance and desire. Note the affair that develops between Adele and the contortionist (Frederic Pfluger) after winning at a slot machine, and the recurring imagery of the roulette wheel that transforms from a simple gambling device to Gabor's ultimate game of chance. The result is an exquisitely realized and thoroughly engrossing film that presents love as both a literal and figurative consequence of risk, fate, courage... and, above all, complete trust.

© Acquarello 2001. All rights reserved.

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