Saturday, August 10, 2013

Cine-Simenon: Monsieur Hire

The nebbish sorts often have a hard time of it in Simenon’s work.  The Belgian crime writer took rather perverse delight in up-ending their drab, regimented lives.  Such will be the case for a stand-offish tailor in Patrice Leconte’s Monsieur Hire (trailer here), which screens during the Anthology Film Archives’ Cine-Simenon retrospective.

People do not like Hire, but he does not think much of them either.  His meaningful human contact will largely be confined to two rather out of the ordinary relationships. Alice is the object of his obsession.  As fate would have it, his flat window is perfectly situated to spy on all her intimate moments.  Discovering her peeping tom, Alice starts initiating encounters between them. Something about the awkward Hire just seems to intrigue her.

Unfortunately, when a young woman’s body is discovered, Hire’s neighbors are only too willing to suspect him.  With their encouragement, a world-weary police inspector very publically dogs the shunned tailor, in the tradition of Columbo—and of course Maigret.  However, Leconte’s take on Simenon (co-adapted by Patrick Dewolf) will masterfully undermine viewers’ assumptions.

Hire is anti-social, but it is not his fault.  He was born that way.  Unfortunately, misanthropes like him will always face hostility and discrimination.  Frankly, Leconte’s film is one of the few attempts to empathize with such an unappealing character.  As a result, there is necessarily quite a bit of creepiness and clamminess going on, yet the film is still quite effective as a film noir psychological thriller.

It is rather alarming how perfectly Michel Blanc essays the look and essence of the severely withdrawn Hire.  As restrained and frustrating as the character might be, we still get a vivid sense of all the messiness bottled up inside him.  In contrast, the glacial, cipher-like Sandrine Bonnaire is a somewhat problematic femme fatale.  However, André Wilms has never gotten his proper due for his subtly surprising turn as the Simenon-esque Inspector.

Monsieur Hire is a very dark film, addressing some provocative themes, but there is a humanistic foundation to it all.  Definitely a film for intelligent adult audiences, it is a fitting selection for AFA’s  Cine-Simenon series.  Recommended for fans of film noir and French cinema, it screens tomorrow (8/11) and next Saturday (8/17) at Anthology.