CINEMA: The French Connection

[Virginia Eliza Poe August 22, 1822 – January 30, 1847]

MONSIEUR HIRE (1989, directed by Patrice Leconte, 81 minutes, France)
THE LOVES OF EDGAR ALLEN POE (1942, directed by Harry Lachman, 67 minutes, U.S.)
PANIQUE (1947, directed by Julien Duvivier, 91 minutes, France)
ANDREW’S VIDEO VAULT @ The Rotunda 4014 Walnut Street, Philadelphia PA
Thursday May 14th 2009  8PM Free!

BuskirkByline_REV.jpgBY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC Two French masterpieces, based on the same novel and an odd biopic rarity make for another night of eclectic cinema at Andrew’s Video Vault. The 1989 breakthrough from director Patrice Laconte (director of the 1999 import hit Girl On A Bridge) kicks off the evening.  Based on a novel from the oft-filmed writer Georges Simenon, Monsieur Hire studies the title loner (played by comedian Michel Blanc), who spends each night peering across the courtyard through the window of the beautiful young Alice (Sadrine Bonnaire).  The prickly Mr. Hire is a friendless soul, with no one to testify to his character when police suspect him in the murder of a neighbor.  Even as early on it becomes apparent that he is not the murderer, Hire’s aloofness makes us wonder if he could be capable of such a crime before the film’s end.  With your typical neo-noir set up, it is Laconte’s terse, controlled direction that sets the film apart.  Like Darren Aronofsky , it the small orderly details that pull you in, and when it comes time to deliver the climax it is a momentary passing glance that tells you everything you need to know about where this lonely man’s heart really resides.

Also on the bill is Julien Duvivier’s 1947 take on the same story, Panique.  Duvivier, one of the forgotten greats of monsieur_hire__1.jpg French cinema (and director Pepe Le Moko), had just returned from America where he sat out the war directing for Twentieth Century Fox and Universal.   While the 1989 version focused on voyeurism and desire, Duvivier draws Hire as a lonely Jewish man thrown into a film noir nightmare when he dares to reach out to the seemingly troubled woman he watches through his apartment window.  Echoes of Fritz Lang (fear of mobs), Hitchcock (a man unjustly accused) and the French suspense master Henri-George Clouzot’s Le Corbeau (which features another town undone by gossip) reverberate throughout the story, not so much out of blatant thievery but because once you get to the rooftop climax you’ll realize you’ve been roughed up by another cinema master.

Also on the bill (and like Panique unavailable on home video) is the little-seen curiosity The Loves of Edgar Allen Poe.  It’s a excellent title, Johnny Depp and Tim Burton should be securing the concept for their next collaboration; too bad the film never quite lives up to its promise.  The problems start with the casting; Poe is played by Shepperd Strudwick (billed under the name “John Sheppard”), an actor who specialized in playing noble and square good guys.  Turns out the film is not a study of a morbid heart of a haunted artist but instead is interested in staking Poe’s claim as a great writer undone by society’s indifference.  At sixty-seven minutes, its still diverting (its fun to see Harry Morgan, Colonel Potter ofTV’s MASH turn up as a fresh-faced youth) but audiences looking for black cats, deadly pendulums and tell-tale beating hearts will have to settle for a man battling the horrors of nineteen century copyright laws.  A horror no doubt, although perhaps one of the least cinematic ones.

Andrew’s Video Vault happens the second Thursday of the month at The Rotunda

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