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Monday, March 14, 2011

LE COMBAT DANS L’ILE (1962)

WARNING: THIS SQUIB CONTAINS SPOILERS !!

This exceptional debut from Nouvelle Vague helmer Alain Cavalier had to wait five decades for its limited art-house release in the States. Perhaps François Truffaut’s JULES ET JIM/’62 (which shares a leading man & a romantic triangle of free-spirited woman torn between two men) made it seem too familiar. A shame since any similarities are skin deep; if anything, this is the flip side to Truffaut’s blame-free lovers. And most of that blame goes to Jean-Louis Trintignant as the vile scapegrace scion of a wealthy industrialist & Romy Schneider as his brainless wife. He’s part of some ill-defined right-wing terrorist organization and is scheduled to play triggerman on a political assassination. But it’s a 'hit' that’s designed to fail. Trintignant’s shooting partner is merely using his radicalism & b&w outlook as part of a scam against his father’s business. (An American version would have focused on the political/industrial war games (think: THE PARALLAX VIEW/’74 or THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR/’76). But this is France, romance trumps politics.) Enter Henri Serre (Jim of JULES ET . . . ), Trintignant’s army pal who lives in the country. It’s a perfect spot to hide out, but Serre won’t condone violence and throws his old buddy out. But the wife stays and a romance blooms; Schneider even becomes intelligent! Then, when Trintignant sneaks back into the country, he demands satisfaction; a duel to the death! Well, it’s all a bit much, but goodness what gorgeous moviemaking from Cavalier. The compositions, pacing and Pierre Lhomme’s magnificent WideScreen b&w images show off a fully mature technique that leaves you wondering where Cavalier has been hiding. His Stateside releases remain frustratingly erratic, perhaps the brave new world of DVD rediscoveries will fill in some gaps.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Henri Serre is just great as the sympathetic manly intellectual. Yet, after this and JULES ET JIM, he never quite broke through to full stardom. Perhaps Jean-Paul Belmondo had a lock on all the broken nose New Wave leads.

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