Patrice Leconte

The Laboratory of Fear (1971, Patrice Leconte)

The Laboratory of Fear is all about expectation. For the short’s eleven minutes, writer and director Leconte wants the audience to expect something. Lots of foreshadowing. Some of it matters, some of it is red herring.

The short opens very documentary-like, with a voice over explaining the modern (for 1971) laboratory. The lab’s so hip they’ve even got a woman scientist (Marianne di Vettimo); better yet, she’s actually good at her job (just ask any of the fellows, says the narrator). Cue opening titles, which end with a disclaimer: don’t expect too much scientific accuracy. So why open with the documentary style? To control the audience’s expectations.

There’s no way to predict, from that opening tag, Fear is actually going to be about lovesick custodian Michel Such going from annoying crush to possibly dangerous stalker. di Vettimo, however, doesn’t seem to notice his escalation. She doesn’t know she’s in the Laboratory of Fear, she just thinks she’s at work, trying to make some silver iodine and getting messed up because Such needs constant attention from her. He even tries to show off for her, sticking his hand in various kinds of dangerous chemicals. Presumably the actor didn’t have to do it, but who knows… di Vettimo is manipulating the spilled mercury by hand without a second thought (because 1971).

The short seems to be a race—will di Vettimo take notice of Such’s possible threat before Such escalates to the point of being dangerous? But the race is yet another of Leconte’s manipulations. The punchline, which is excellent, is as unpredictable as the setup. Though Leconte has been building to the punchline since after the opening titles; should it have been expected? Probably not. Not even if one is familiar with di Vettimo’s experiments, since Fear’s not about the hard science.

Good creeper performance from Such. Decent one from di Vettimo, who doesn’t really get anything to do. Leconte’s direction is fine, save the occasional visual flourishes. They’re to play with expectation too, of course.

Fear’s a competently executed narrative with a nice kicker.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Patrice Leconte; director of photography, Jean Gonnett; edited by Marguerite Renoir; produced by Pierre Braunberger for Les Films de la Pléiade.

Starring Marianne di Vettimo (Clara) and Michel Such (Antoine)


The Girl on the Bridge (1999, Patrice Leconte)

I really didn’t think there’d be much to say about Girl on the Bridge. It goes for a mediocre charming and it easily attains it. The opening suggests something a little different–it’s a long scene, which may or may not have edits (but if it does, one isn’t supposed to notice them) with Vanessa Paradis telling her life story to a room full of people. The context is never explained and, immediately following, she ends up on the titular bridge, ready to jump, only to be saved by fellow discontent Daniel Auteuil.

The majority of the film operates under a simple set of agreements. First and foremost, Auteuil is charming. He’s world-weary, he’s old enough to be Paradis’s father, he’s an underdog. Second, Paradis is charming. She’s above reproach, occasionally precious, also an underdog. The film’s constantly reminding how the two are unlucky in everything but each other. It could be the tag line.

Except Girl on the Bridge also operates under the assumption it isn’t going to be a tag line-friendly film. Patrice Leconte’s Panavision composition is fantastic. A lot of the film is impeccably directed, with certain sequences standing out–there’s a beautiful night drive through the Italian countryside–Jean-Marie Dreujou’s black and white cinematography is a perfect example of how that medium allows for a lot more vividness than color ever can. There’s also an eclectic, romantic soundtrack of American standards. The film takes place in scenic European spots. Being American, they seem even more scenic to me, I suppose, but it’s definitely intentioned to have engender some response (a generally lifeless Paris to a fantastic Monte Carlo–I think–followed by Italy, Greece and Turkey).

If that last feature seems out of place–a travelogue in this purportedly avant-garde effort–it should. For all its hubbub, Girl on the Bridge is incredibly standard. Paradis goes from lover to lover, only to discover she’s best with Auteuil–he’s a knife-thrower, she’s his target. Are there a couple metaphor-heavy knife-throwing as sex scenes? Yep. They’re solid filmmaking, but they’re so obvious I’m using a rhetorical question for the first time in a while. They, along with the absurdity of narrative (the film proposes the two characters as damaged leads in a fairy tale), are what keeps Girl on the Bridge down for the majority of the running time. Like I said, a mediocre charming and nothing more. There’s a strange lack of ambition to the film. A false passion.

Until the third act, which is an absolute disaster. It includes scenes of the characters talking to each other across great distances–carrying on real, not imagined conversations–here’s that fairy tale aspect–and some tugging on the melodramatic heartstrings. Without Paradis, the film turns into Auteuil’s plunge into depression. The third act practically opens with a title card announcing it and the end is predictable from that moment.

The film’s got some real potential and there are a lot of good and great things about it, but it fails miserably. It’s actually somewhat embarrassing.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Patrice Leconte; written by Serge Frydman; director of photography, Jean-Marie Dreujou; edited by Joëlle Hache; production designer, Ivan Maussion; produced by Christian Fechner; released by UGC-Fox Distribution.

Starring Daniel Auteuil (Gabor), Vanessa Paradis (Adèle), Bertie Cortez (Kusak), Giorgios Gatzios (Barker), Demetre Georgalas (Takis), Luc Palun (Stage Manager), Isabelle Petit-Jacques (Bride), Frédéric Pfluger (Contortionist) and Natascha Solignac (Nurse).


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