Screen Gems Panique

PANIQUE, drama, not rated, in French with sub­ti­tles, Vi­o­let Crown, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - — Jon Bow­man

More than 70 years af­ter its orig­i­nal re­lease in France in 1946, Julien Du­vivier’s thriller Panique is fi­nally re­ceiv­ing a wide the­atri­cal ex­hi­bi­tion across the United States. The film might have been de­layed, but its rel­e­vance, if any­thing, is all the more timely.

This was the first movie Du­vivier made upon re­turn­ing to France from Hol­ly­wood, where he worked through­out much of World War II. In the States, he spe­cial­ized in fan­tasies, mak­ing a pair of bril­liant an­thol­ogy pic­tures — Tales of Man­hat­tan and Flesh and Fantasy — star­ring an­other dis­lo­cated French­man, Charles Boyer. Panique also delves into fantasy and the oc­cult, bor­row­ing from the port­man­teau struc­ture of Du­vivier’s Hol­ly­wood suc­cesses, but it’s a much darker film, an al­le­gory of sorts, in which he warns about a few of the most burn­ing so­cial dan­gers posed by WWII. Here, we con­front the scape­goat­ing and per­se­cu­tion of Jews, the rise of mob vi­o­lence, the dis­sem­i­na­tion of fake news — all el­e­ments cen­tral to this story that are, once again, prob­lems across much of the world.

Panique is one of the ear­li­est film adap­ta­tions of a novel by Ge­orges Si­menon, the mys­tery writer best known for his In­spec­tor Mai­gret nov­els. Si­menon is one of the most fre­quently trans­lated writ­ers of mod­ern times, and more than 150 movies have been based on his sto­ries. The novel adapted for Panique later served as the ba­sis for Mon­sieur Hire, Pa­trice Le­conte’s 1989 film star­ring Michel Blanc and San­drine Bon­naire.

Here, Michel Si­mon from L’Ata­lante stars as Mon­sieur Hire, a Jewish out­cast and loner who lives in a sub­urb on the north­ern out­skirts of Paris. He not only keeps to him­self, but he’s also a bit ec­cen­tric, so his neigh­bors grow quite sus­pi­cious when the corpse of a mid­dle-aged woman is found par­tially buried in a de­serted lot near his ho­tel. The sus­pi­cions are fu­eled by a con­niv­ing pair of lovers. The beau­ti­ful Alice, a newly re­leased con­vict played by Vi­viane Ro­mance, has be­come a lodger near Hire’s room. She gets creeped out when she catches him spy­ing on her. Her boyfriend Al­fred (Paul Bernard) laughs it off, and per­suades Alice to se­duce Mon­sieur Hire. It seems Al­fred has his rea­sons to frame the lonely old man, thereby tak­ing the heat off him­self as a pos­si­ble sus­pect in the old maid’s mur­der.

Panique isn’t a who­dunit, as Du­vivier quickly pin­points the ac­tual killer. The story is much more a warn­ing tale about how easy it can be to in­cite mob vi­o­lence, and to prey upon peo­ple’s bi­ases and prej­u­dices. Du­vivier’s stay in Hol­ly­wood served him well — the story un­folds swiftly, with plenty of stylis­tic flour­ishes but also some bril­liant crescen­dos of ac­tion. Most no­table is a cas­cade of bumper cars at a fair­ground amuse­ment park, where all of the riders, one af­ter the other, hit upon the idea to slam the delin­quent Mon­sieur Hire.

The re-emer­gence of the long-lost Panique stands as the undis­puted high­light of the month­long Sum­mer in Paris film se­ries at the Vi­o­let Crown Cin­ema. But with eight films in the se­ries, there are plenty of other choices for view­ers who want a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to sam­pling French cin­ema. Shar­ing the spot­light this week is Diva, the cheeky 1981 Water­gate par­ody that is not just a grand thriller but also a mad­cap ro­mance with oper­atic flour­ishes. Frédéric An­dréi stars as a young Parisian postal mes­sen­ger whose ob­ses­sion with an opera singer played by the rav­ish­ing Wil­hel­me­nia Fernandez drives the plot. And what an amaz­ing plot it is, in­volv­ing ri­val gang­sters, cor­rupt cops, and an art stu­dent who dou­bles as a shoplifter. All of their paths collide in strange and un­pre­dictable ways across a dream­like Paris in what’s one of the most de­li­cious, deliri­ous ex­er­cises in Pop Art ever recorded on film.

This was the de­but fea­ture by Jean-Jac­ques Beineix, who aban­doned a med­i­cal ca­reer to make un­ortho­dox, visually stun­ning works in­clud­ing Betty Blue and Moon in the Gut­ter. Even more than Beineix, Diva brought at­ten­tion to the eye-pop­ping cin­e­matog­ra­phy of Philippe Rous­selot, who has since been re­cruited by Hol­ly­wood to shoot its big­gest fan­tasies — Char­lie and the Choco­late Fac­tory (2005), Sher­lock Holmes (2009) and, only last year, Fan­tas­tic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Of spe­cial note in Diva is the ap­pear­ance of a dwarfish vil­lain, Le Curé, played by Do­minique Pi­non. The same actor later starred in the 1991 black com­edy Del­i­catessen, an ab­surd, fu­tur­is­tic souf­flé on can­ni­bal­ism that closes out the Sum­mer of Paris se­ries. Del­i­catessen also has gone un­seen for many years, but the de­but fea­ture co-directed and cowrit­ten by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Je­unet has been newly re­stored and placed onto DCP to al­low screenings in Amer­i­can movie houses.

The first Sum­mer in Paris ti­tles all con­sist of crime sto­ries and gang­ster movies, but Del­i­catessen is part of a sec­ond wave of ti­tles, called Into the Macabre, fo­cus­ing on the su­per­nat­u­ral and the sur­real. Also com­ing up:

▼ Jean-Luc Go­dard’s Al­phav­ille, star­ring Hol­ly­wood ex­pa­tri­ate Ed­die Con­stan­tine in a fight against an evil com­puter ter­ror­iz­ing a fu­tur­is­tic city.

▼ Eyes Without a Face, Ge­orges Franju’s fright­en­ing tale of a bold sci­en­tist who cravenly ex­per­i­ments on his own daugh­ter to re­store her beauty af­ter a hor­rific ac­ci­dent.

▼ That Ob­scure Ob­ject of De­sire, the last film by the Span­ish sur­re­al­ist Luis Buñuel, which uses a se­ries of flash­backs to fol­low mid­dle-aged Fer­nando Rey as he falls for a cham­ber­maid.

Michel Si­mon and Vi­viane Ro­mance

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