Sunday, December 26, 2010

Techine’s Thieves

André Téchiné is one of those uncommon directors who can deftly stage an ambiguous morality play without indulging in pretention or didacticism. A film like 1996’s Thieves (Les Voleurs) has an icy intelligence that probably won’t get him programmed on Oprah’s network anytime soon, but it deserves to reach its audience. Happily, Téchiné’s Thieves is now available to discerning viewers through Columbia Classics’ new Screen Classics by Request collector’s line of previously unavailable films.

Justin’s father Ivan has died. The details are murky. However, we can tell the young boy is not thrilled by the presence of his Uncle Alex. There was indeed some biblical sibling rivalry festering between them. We start to understand their feud better as Téchiné shifts time and POV, showing us how Alex, an honest but joyless cop, met Juliette Fontana, the woman he brought to his brother’s wake. Their first encounter was strictly professional, when Alex, acting out of character, let her walk on a shoplifting charge. The next time he runs into her, it is part of the dodgy scene at Ivan’s dubious nightclub.

Thus begins an affair that is neither loving nor passionate, but base and animalistic. It works for Alex though. The exact nature of her relationship with Ivan remains obscure, but she has another lover who is everything Alex is not. Marie Leblanc is supportive, sophisticated, considerate, and yes, a woman. Strangely enough, Alex and Leblanc will become allies of a sort when Juliette is caught up in Ivan’s funny business.

Of course, nothing is straight forward in Thieves, which Téchiné makes all the more mysterious with his elliptical narrative structure. It is not that the audience cannot guess the general nature of the very real crimes afoot. It is more about who knows what and how they feel about each other.

Daniel Auteuil is perfectly cast as Alex, the iceman who starts to crack, nicely conveying the dangerous resentment below his reserved exterior. Likewise, Catheine Deneuve is completely convincing as the book-smart but unworldly Leblanc. However, it is hard to understand their mutual attraction to Laurence Cote, who seems neither intriguing nor particularly alluring as Fontana.

Thieves is a film for smart adults, unfolding in unexpected ways. Its razor-sharp dialogue, co-written by Téchiné and Gilles Taurand often has a bracing “oh snap” character that gives the film a considerable edge. A very good outing from a major filmmaker, Thieves is an excellent selection for Columbia’s promising new Screen Classics By Request imprint.