!!!! Okay, I’m on a Turner Classic Movies kick (living with my dad right now), what are we doing to protect them? They are an institution and I worry in like 10 years twenty-four year olds are going to let them die. This is a French movie starring Jeanne Moreau and Maurice Ronet, directed by Louis Malle. It came out in 1958 but wasn’t released in America until later, so many American film critics didn’t include it in their write ups of early French New Wave. History is fallible because it is written by humans! Please remember that when you read positive depictions of colonialism/imperialism!!
This is an amazing film. It was scored by Miles Davis before he was super famous!!!! The TCM intro was talking about how saxophone is usually identified as the classic film noir sound but that after this movie, “Miles Davis’ trumpet sounds like the loneliest, saddest sound in the world.” And it was!
The plot of this movie is a little convoluted but the main guy, Julien Tavernier, works at a company (let’s start there). The first scene is him murdering his boss because he’s also having an affair with his wife who he is planning to run away with. It’s a great murder, Julien rappels UP the building a single story, kills his boss at his desk with his own gun he plants to mime suicide, then holds the mechanism on the door with a switchblade so it looks like it was locked from the inside. But when coming back down to his office, the phone is ringing and he’s rushing so he’s not discovered missing, and he forgets his grappling hook. Don’t you just hate when you forget your grappling hook?
After Julien leaves he glances up and sees the hook dangling from the side of the building. Not great! So he leaves the keys in the car with it running (why??) and goes back. Someone immediately steals his car, which makes perfect sense. It’s a flower shop girl and her boyfriend who has a leather jacket, so we know he’s bad news. They go joy riding on the highway-literally riding up, then turning around and riding back down the stretch of highway-until they have a road race (early Fast & the Furious vibes) with some Germans in a Mercedes. This for some reason transitions to them all going and staying at the same motel. Flower girl checks in using Julien’s name while her leather boyfriend waits in the car (he’s got priors). She knows his name because he buys the married woman he’s having an affair with a lot of flowers (even the bad guys are good in this movie!! Women will love you through a murder if you buy them flowers often enough!!).
They all drink together (except the leather jacket boyfriend who doesn’t like champagne for some reason?) and take pictures on a miniature camera and later and eventually get into a mini fight because the German guy calls him out on lying. (He said his name was Julien but she keeps calling him Louis, he pretends he was in the army but knows nothing about where he was stationed, etc.). They part ways. Then the guy and girl get up to leave in the middle of the night because apparently you pay on check out, and they go to steal the Mercedes so they can’t be traced I guess for stealing the other car? It made sense at the time. But the German guy hears them and comes out with a gun, but the boyfriend has a gun because it was in Julien’s car and he shoots both of the Germans like 10 times. He shoots them so many times!! Decidedly too many times. They leave on foot I think.
Did you forget about the real Julien? Well, fret not-he got the grappling hook but then on the way back down someone was closing the building, didn’t realize anyone was still there and SHUT OFF THE ELEVATOR which I guess people used to do?? Like I think shut off the power to the elevator so he is trapped in there. And it’s Saturday. A FULL nightmare. He doesn’t loose his cool though, just starts tinkering with screws and taking them out with his pocketknife.
MEANWHILE something ELSE that’s going on is that Mrs. Carala, whose husband has been murdered and she has no idea, was supposed to meet Julien but he never showed AND she saw his car go by and couldn’t see the driver but saw the flower girl in the passenger seat. This was one of the best moments of the movie-instead of doubting herself or feeling insecure, her thought process is, “He’s with the flower girl? That’s so shabby” (SHABBY!!!!!) and then immediately decides, “He won’t let himself feel true happiness.” Can you imagine thinking someone abandoned you for another person and instead of getting jealous feeling pity for them because they’ll ‘never let themselves experience true happiness???’ That level of confidence and trust in yourself is something we should all aspire to.
But she doesn’t give up on him, she walks the streets of Paris looking for him, going to his haunts and places she’s been with him to see if she can find him. These are some of the most gorgeous shots in the movie, she’s walking along the streets, apparently the director put the camera in a baby stroller and only used the ambient lighting from shops and bars and it’s this dreamy dysphoria where she’s wandering around hopelessly searching. One scene she walks unbothered through moving traffic and none of the cars hit her but they don’t slow down either. It’s insane to see. Also, please remember, while this is going on the background is MILES DAVIS and a band just going nuts. It’s such a frenetic energy.
So, the cops pin the wrong murder on Julien which is funny because he did kill someone just not two German tourists at a motel, so they are looking for him but Mrs. Carala is putting all the pieces together and she shakes down the older flower lady for the flower girl’s home address, goes there, finds the two of them-forgot to mention-they have decided they’re going to get caught despite there being no physical evidence of either of them, so they decide to kill themselves. They take some sleeping pills and Romeo and Juliet it on the bed. But wake up like 2 hours later because they’re both 24 and they took like 2 pills. But then they remember the camera that has photos of them, he goes to get it but the cops are already there and they catch him.
Julien gets caught at a café (how French) because he got out of the elevator somehow (people kept coming in the building?? Then the cops came to check out his office and found the OTHER murdered guy, the boss/husband) and needed a croissant but his picture was in the paper and the waitress called the police. The lesson here is of course, never eat a croissant in public, no good can come of it. So the cops have him and they figure out he didn’t do the murder they thought, but he did do this now second murder. There’s also so much drama when he’s in the elevator by the way, because he dismantles the door but then can’t reach the floor in either direction, then he discovers a cloth covering in the bottom of the elevator and pulls it to reveal a removable grate, then he’s dangling below the elevator when someone turns it on and gets in the other side and it’s MOVING and you think he’s going to be crushed- there’s STRESS.
Mrs. Carala has followed the leather jacket boyfriend because she’s trying to clear HER dangerous boyfriend but the cops are there and they apprehend them both. They show her the developed photos which include evidence of the affair and tell her he’s going to be in jail for ten years. She immediately processes this and decides to wait for him. Once the picture becomes clear we realize we have never seen her smile once, nor have they been in a scene together. Fin.
I loved this movie so much, it has so much tension but was so clever and fast-paced and suspenseful. The first scene is masterful and so high stakes immediately and never lets up. It feels like there’s always like 3 balls juggling in the air and you’re trying to piece them all together. Well-acted too, everyone held their own in scenes and felt like they delivered clear motivation without needing dialogue to spell everything out.
Everyone is hot, I’m not sure if that says something about me or just that it’s true all French people are hot. Jeanne Moreau looks so much like Jemima Kirke I looked them up to see if they’re related but got nothing. She manages to convey so much emotion just on her face, she doesn’t say that much and we can always see what she’s thinking. I have to say though it made me never want to have an affair, they just seem so stressful. And I know you don’t want to hurt anyone either but ugh. Before people had cell phones you just had to accept the unknown more and I think that’s a lost art. People are too used to thinking they know things. I liked that love seemed like this unbearable burden that life wasn’t worth living without. Everyone was so dramatic! Everything was life and death, at the drop of a hat. Like, “Oh it’s Tuesday? Time to die for someone I love.” I could never be French.
The movie was gorgeous, not only is the lighting incredible but there are so many beautiful sets and pieces, down to the smallest details. In Julien’s office he has this kind of clock that’s just two stacked numbers on what looks like flippable paper that changes itself, in a circular glass/woo encasement. I’ve never seen a clock like it? Or maybe it was a calendar? It was very cool. And all the old cars with the gull-wing doors and fins, it’s so pretty.
An amazing movie with an amazing score, highly highly recommend. 5/5 miniature cameras, would masturbate again.