Nibble by tiny nibble, guilt eats away at a mild-mannered man who has committed murder in “Hardset. A Murder in Paris,” a pleasing oddity whose offbeat tone is abetted by ’50s decor and a terrific score. Character thesps light up this modest but perfectly controlled exercise in literary adaptation, drawn from Tristan Bernard’s pre-existentialist tale of a man who enjoys life on the lam but feels even better when he believes the jig is up. Film enjoyed a brief theatrical run last fall, and deserves fest play.
Writer-director Philippe Collin is a wry vet critic with more than 100 TV shows about art and history under his belt. His prior feature, “The Last Days of Immanuel Kant,” was better than a decade ago.
Paul (stand-up comic Elie Semoun, in a nicely reserved, sober perf) needs money for expenses and alimony. His buddy, Daubelle (Philippe Uchan), introduces him to imperious loan shark Sarrebry (Henri Garcin). Unassuming Paul whacks him with a hammer and hits the road with envelopes of purloined cash.
Almost immediately, and with dark humor to spare, little telltale signs of a troubled conscience pop up.
Paul meets the desperately convivial Simone (Ludmila Mikael) and repairs to her villa. Along the way, he writes his own incriminating story and mails installments to a post office box in Paris.
Slightly stiff performances and pic’s saturated colors lend just the right amount of other-worldliness. The denouement, like the entire enterprise, blends the richness of literature with the visual economy of cinema.
Score by Jean-Claude Vannier, complete with musical saw, is a delight.