Tag Archives: Marguerite Renoir

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)


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Toni (1935, Jean Renoir)

In its opening, Toni is established as an immigrant’s story. Foreign workers (Spanish and Italian) go to the south of France to work the quarries. The opening “prologue”–it’s never announced as a prologue, but there’s an “end of prologue” card–shows the workers’ arrival. The end also shows workers arriving, three years later, after the title character, Toni, has had some adventures. Problematically, he only gets a name after the prologue’s over so it’s hard to recognize him once the first part of the film starts. Toni’s present action is three years, split into one section a year after Toni arrives and has found a place (well, a girlfriend–his landlady) and another, two years later. Because of the split, the film mostly concentrates on melodrama–there’s a love triangle (or quartet, it’s reveal is one of the film’s only decent final act moments)–but never on anything interesting. We never see Toni become friends with the other workers, even though these friendships are incredibly important to the first part of the film. There’s one character–who’s in the entire film–who doesn’t even get a name until the last scene. We also never see Toni and his landlady’s romance, which might have been nice, since–by the time we arrive–he’s a jerk and she’s a nag. There are some moments of the second romance, the one leading into the love triangle, but when the film skips two years… well, it’s just hard for them to have any resonance.

Watching the film, I thought it was one of Renoir’s earliest works, but it’s not, it’s ten years into his career. Some of the shots are the regular, wonderful Renoir shots and I was all set with a sentence about how no one composed for black and white like Renoir did. But there’s a raw element to Toni. The focus is soft when it shouldn’t be and, since it’s filmed on location and some of the actors aren’t actors (there’s a great cutaway from some worker looking straight at the camera, followed by a couple kids who can’t keep a straight face), Toni feels amateurish. None of the lead actors–except Max Dalban as the dimensionless villain–are good, which doesn’t help the film either.

The film has an interesting pace. The opening moves, the middle drags, and the end is somewhere in between. Unfortunately, the perception of the end might be affected by how bad the film is getting. When Renoir ties it into the pretty, “immigrant worker story” bow, Toni flattens, losing anything (not much) it might have been doing. Still, since the quality ranges throughout–getting worse and worse, unfortunately–and starts reasonably high, the film’s not an unpleasant experience. By the end, for example, I’d forgotten I had been expecting a lot more from Renoir.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jean Renoir; screenplay by Renoir, based on a story by Jacques Levert; director of photography, Claude Renoir; edited by Suzanne de Troeye and Marguerite Renoir; music by Paul Bozzi; released by Films Marcel Pagnol.

Starring Celia Montalván (Josefa), Jenny Helia (Marie), Édouard Delmont (Fernand), Max Dalban (Albert), Andrex (Gabi), Michel Kovachevitch (Sebastian) and Charles Blavette (Toni).


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