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TSPDT 2013: La nuit du carrefour (Night at the Crossroads)

Posted by martinteller on May 16, 2013

At a tiny country crossroads, Inspector Maigret (Pierre Renoir, director Jean’s brother) is investigating the murder of a jeweler.  The neighborhood consists of merely a gas station and three houses.  The body is found in a stolen car in the garage of the Danish Carl Andersen (Georges Koudria) and his sister Else (Winna Winifried).  In the second house is Emile Michonnet (Jean Gehret) — the owner of the stolen car — and his wife (Jane Pierson).  The third belongs to the gas station owner Oscar (Dignimont) and his wife (Lucie Vallat).  Carl is the primary suspect, though he swears he never saw the jeweler in his life.  Maigret grills him and gets nowhere.  Carl disappears, raising suspicion… but meanwhile the list of potential suspects is growing and growing.

This was the very first movie based on Georges Simenon’s popular Maigret character… the inspector would go on to appear in scads of films and television series.  This is my first encounter with the character (although I have seen adaptations of other Simenon works, including the noir The Brothers Rico and Bela Tarr’s The Man from London) so I can’t say whether or not Pierre Renoir’s portrayal is at all faithful.  He plays it with a slight cynical sarcasm, but mostly all business… observing carefully and picking up on details.  The real star here is Winifried, a sultry, unpredictable femme fatale.

The film has very odd editing, and apparently a reel is missing.  There are a number of unusual cutaway edits.  For instance, when Carl is being interrogated, Renoir will cut away to a newsstand announcing different editions of the paper to indicate the passing of time.  That’s unusual enough on its own, but what makes it really different is that these shots are filmed from gutter level, showing water and trash drifting into the sewer.  There’s also a couple of shots showing Else, for no apparent reason, amusing herself with a large turtle.  All this gives the movie a surreal edge and while the plot is very confusing, it’s an atmospheric piece that’s very moody.  Exteriors are usually smothered in fog, interiors in cigarette smoke.  Many shots have important action in the background.  The film’s roughness feels sloppy, but also enhances the strangeness of it.

The ending features the traditional scene where the detective gathers all the suspects in a room and explains how it all went down.  It’s an unsatisfying conclusion, largely because the plot is so convoluted that it doesn’t feel like anything is really resolved.  But as a filmic experience, it’s an unconventional and delightfully weird diversion with some sly bits of humor.  Rating: Good (75)


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