Monday, April 9, 2012

Paris Journal V: 38 Temoins

Existentialism is alive and well in France, if Lucas Belvaux's  38 temoins (38 Witnesses) exemplifies the zeitgeist. The movie, which is playing at the Danton, only steps away from Odeon stop of the Metro, might be subtitled Kitty Genovese in Vichy. A woman is brutally murdered on a street in the port city of Le Havre and none of the 38 witnesses (38 people by way also witnessed the Kitty Genovese murder) in the apartment complex overlooking the scene of the crime even calls the police. However horrible the murder, the real crime is silence. And when one of the residents, a harbor pilot named Pierre Morvand (Yvon Attal) racked with guilt by his own complicity in the silence, fesses up, he is treated as criminal by his irate neighbors. For all the seeming ponderousness of its story, the film is narrow and slight, a mordant form of what Graham Greene might have termed an entertainment (it was based on a novel by Didier Decoin). Everything fits together neatly--the movie is a philosophical vignette--and the disquisition takes the form of montage sequences in which scenes of Pierre piloting cargo ships through the harbor are cross cut with the memorial the self-righteous apartment dwellers have built to honor the ill-fated victim. “l’infer, c’est les autres,” is a line from Sartre’s No Exit. In slightly more watered down form, 38 temoins presents a similar notion. It’s not surprising the film hasn’t found a US distributor, but this is France where philosophical dialogues can still be found on television. The French still require a smear of existentialism with their croissant.

1 comment:

  1. "The French still require a smear of existentialism with their croissant."

    What a brilliant statement this is. Kudos on a fine review, Francis!


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