L’horloger de Saint-Paul
Posted by martinteller on August 9, 2012
Michel Descombes (Philippe Noiret) is a simple watchmaker in Lyons, a widower who enjoys hanging out with his friends. One day the police come to his shop, and he learns that his son, Bernard, has apparently committed a murder. The victim is the former boss of the young man’s girlfriend, a girl that Michel didn’t even know existed. As he works with the primary detective (Jean Rochefort) on the case to help locate his son and determine a motive, he realizes how little he knows about his child’s life… but is determined to support and protect him.
There’s a lot more going on here, too. Political films are always a struggle for me, doubly so when the politics are foreign, and even more so when they’re 38 years old. I often felt like I was missing the point, and I probably did. Michel seems to be coming to terms with (or discovering) his own rebellious, revolutionary streak, but also denying the political implications — if there are any — to Bernard’s actions. In general I think the political message of the film is lost on me.
But as a character study, it’s a very good film. Noiret was quite busy at this time, in the same year he appeared in Le Secret (which I recently reviewed) and Ferreri’s awkward farce Don’t Touch the White Woman. And the previous year he had appeared in a far better Ferreri film, La Grande Bouffe (which gets a clever mention in this film). Here he still has that shabby, likable Walter Matthau-ish quality, but the performance is quite subtle, understated and introspective. Noiret quietly registers his revelations on his face, you can sense him weighing information in his mind. As a “crime film” it’s rather unusual, focusing little on either the police or the suspect, but rather the suspect’s father, a man not prone to emotional outbursts but who is clearly affected by it all. It’s a character worth spending time with.
I do wish I had a better grasp on the film’s political messages, but it was still a good experience. I should also note that there is some excellent camerawork, including a couple of lengthy and impressive tracking shots. Rating: Good (76)