L'etrange Monsieur Victor | Chicago Reader

L'etrange Monsieur Victor

In his finest work, including this masterful 1938 noir, the remarkable French filmmaker Jean Gremillon (1901-'59), trained as a composer and musician, used mise en scene, script construction, editing, and dialogue delivery to explore the complex relationship between film and music. Raimu, one of the greatest French actors, plays the “strange” title hero, a respectable Toulon merchant who secretly operates as a fence for local thieves; after he murders a potential blackmailer, an innocent local shoemaker (Pierre Blanchar) is sent to prison for the crime. Seven years later the fall guy escapes and returns to Toulon to see his son; unaware of Victor's guilt, he persuades the merchant to shelter him, then becomes involved with his wife. None of the moral ambiguities are lost on Gremillon, who eschews the usual distinctions between heroes and villains to make this a troubling and offbeat melodrama. Shot both in Toulon and at Berlin's UFA studio, this potent dissection of appearance and reality may be less impressive than Gremillon's subsequent Lumiere d'ete (1943), which benefits from Jacques Prevert's dialogue, but it's brilliant filmmaking all the same. With Madeleine Renaud and Vivianne Romance; coscripted by Albert Valentin, Charles Spaak, and Marcel Achard. In French with subtitles. 103 min.

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