Pierre Duval Vincent Lindon
Bernard Jaillac Jacques Dutronc
Claire Karen Viard
Claire (Manou) Florence Thomassin
Bleche Gerard Darmon
A dispassionate, intriguing story of disappearance and oddly crossed destinies set in France and Morocco, Patrick Grandperret’s “Victims” goes a long way to dispel the notion that far-fetched romantic chestnuts are too corny for the tastes of contempo audiences. Updating a dusty novel by postwar French team Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac (who wrote the source material for “Vertigo” and “Diabolique”), Grandperret and co-scripter Arlette Langmann have gambled that old-fashioned moral enigmas about adultery and murder can still pull in crowds of vicarious sinners. Pic should fare respectably throughout Europe and have a long tube career ahead of it, and remake potential is abundant.
Veteran Grandperret, seemingly more at home in the naive exoticism of Africa (“The Lion Child,” “The Elephant Master”) than in the ethical minefield of his native France, has here crafted an agreeable mixture of the two. Vid-generation viewers might think the portrait much too long in execution, but lovers of leisurely character studies will be delighted.
Thirtyish Pierre Duval (Vincent Lindon) is a Parisian book editor engaged in a passionate liaison with Manou, aka Claire Jaillac (Florence Thomassin), the foxy young wife of a prominent civil engineer, Bernard (Jacques Dutronc). When Claire announces that she must accompany her husband on his career-making trip to a hydroelectric dam project in Morocco, Duval gets engaged as her husband’s biographer a gig that will get him to the Moroccan dam and, he presumes, continuing carnal bliss.
At the airport, the taciturn Jaillac shows up without his wife, so Duval endures silent agony as an executive jet takes thetwo men to a remote region of Morocco. Once there, Duval begins to imagine the worst: The almost hostile Jaillac plans to kill him, his mistress has abandoned him forever, or, worst of all, the Jaillacs have conspired to strand him there.
Just when his inner demons tell him to confront Jaillac, Duval is told to meet Claire at the airstrip. But the Claire who steps off the plane is another woman (Karen Viard), an intellectual, outdoorsy type who seems almost maternal toward her husband. At first shellshocked, Duval determines to figure out who Claire No. 1 really is. But then Claire No. 2 falls in love with him and convinces him to stage her accidental death so she can flee her boring hubby and assume a new identity. The story’s dark secret is stagily, almost awkwardly revealed at pic’s end.
Lindon delivers a flawless, often comic perf as a loser in love. Chain-smoking and unshaven, Lindon’s neurotic urban tenderfoot in the rugged outback dominates the story, leaving little room for Dutronc’s Jaillac to muster the requisite villainy to keep audiences nervous.
Although proficient and polished, Dutronc’s perf (and the pic) would have been enhanced had Grandperret told his actor to turn up the volume. The women play their secondary roles admirably. Thomassin, as Manou/Claire No. 1, succeeds in continuing the sexpot trajectory she traced in “Ainsi Soient-Elles” and “Beaumarchais.” Viard, last seen as yet another straying architect’s wife in the late Christine Pascal’s “Adultery: A User’s Manual,” gives Grandperret’s slightly flagging story new impetus with her unexpected arrival and her cheerful , if somewhat chastely shot, cheating.
The austerity of pic’s Atlas Mountains setting is softened through a lively Afro soundtrack performed by Bilondiey. Cinematographer Pierre David, although shooting effectively in widescreen, resists the temptation to turn “Victims” into a travelogue. The overt winks at Hitchcock, in fantasy sequences involving vertigo and an attack by birds, work less well than cooler shots, such as when Duval awaits his beloved on a deserted high-plateau airstrip.