Directed by Jacques Doniol-Valcroze • Drama • With Maurice Ronet, Françoise Brion, Nicole Berger • 1961 • 72 minutes
An innocent man, a dark bar, a body already on the floor, a brawl – what happened? And who’s innocent, anyway? Jacques Doniol-Valcroze’s game-playing mystery begins with a simple police investigation, but gradually, almost casually, it sprawls like a spider’s web to encompass the past as the French lived it, as combatants or collaboraters or both, during WWII. The stranger in the dark nightclub is Michel (Maurice Ronet), a successful film producer with a beautiful and frivolous wife (Francoise Brion), and little reason, it seems, to be worried about being interrogated about a murder he didn’t commit. But when threatening letters start coming, Michel begins to suspect that a wartime secret, from his days as a Resistance fighter, will somehow rise to the surface.
“There is no truth,” Michel’s old war buddy warns him. Doniol-Valcrose, one of Cahiers du cinema’s founding editors and a French New Wave icon, crafts the complex intrigue with an off-hand pleasure, indulging in elaborate striptease routines, marital foreplay, and meta-movie allusions – an art film Michel is producing looks like a sly parody of Resnais’ Last Year in Marienbad, which also featured the saturnine character actor Sacha Pitoeff, here playing the arch police investigater. Uncertainty is everywhere, every character in this guilt-ridden puzzle has their own private motivations, and they all seem to know more than Michel does, an evasive New Wave gambit of the filmmaker’s that makes eloquent use of Ronet’s worried good looks.
“Jacques Doniol-Valcroz propels us into his darkest and most ambitious film.”