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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

JUSTE AVANTE LA NUIT / JUST BEFORE NIGHTFALL (1971)

This typically chilly thriller from French filmmaker Claude Chabrol (1930-2010) observes with the clinical detachment of a lab experiment, riffing on CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, but with a bourgeois businessman in for Raskolnikov. Here, it’s Dostoevsky’s theme, not his plot that traps married man Michel Bouquet. He’s killed his mistress, accidentally or purposefully, in an S&M role-playing game. Yet while Bouquet all but offers himself up for punishment, no one wants to hold him to account. Not his wife, not the victim’s husband (a close family friend), not the police. Odd, a bit of office embezzlement gets quick action against his company accounts manager and the man's young mistress, why can’t a murderer find redemptive punishment to match the pleasurable guilt of old infidelities? Chabrol lays this all out on a few well-chosen modernist sets, often arranged to look like little theatre prosceniums (with stage curtains in front of the bedrooms) and he gets some remarkable perfs from his cast (Bouquet, Stéphane Audran as the wife, François Perrier as the nonjudgmental cuckold) that are stylized & realistic at one & the same time. It’s a slight film, but rigorously focused, a conversation piece soufflé that might have collapsed under other hands.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Don’t be surprised by the 1.33:1/Academy Ratio on the DVD. Officially licensed from Corinth Films, it’s likely that the image was cropped via projection framing gates to between 1.66/1.85:1. It certainly doesn’t look like a dreaded Pan&Scan conversion.

DOUBLE-BILL: A famous French version of CRIME AND PUNISHMENT was released in 1935, but the greatest of all C&P adaptations is Robert Bresson’s modern take in PICKPOCKET/59.

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