Le Combat dans l’Île – Alain Cavalier (1962)


French Political Thriller as Allegory, but There’s a Bazooka in the Closet by A.O. Scott: “In ‘The Conformist,’ Bertolucci’s 1970 film about the moral corruption and aesthetic decadence of Italy under Mussolini, the French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant laid bare some of the psychological dimensions of the Fascist personality with a sinister precision rarely matched before or since. Admirers of that performance will find a precedent in ‘Le Combat dans l’Île,’ a curious and fascinating French film from 1962 in which Mr. Trintignant in effect rehearses, in his native language, the creepy and seductive mixture of sadism and insecurity he would translate into Italian eight years later. In ‘Le Combat dans l’Île,’ directed by Alain Cavalier and produced by Louis Malle, Mr. Trintignant plays Clément, a factory owner’s son who is involved with a clandestine group of right-wing militants. Their ultimate aims are mysterious, but this small, armed cadre is disciplined and serious enough to plot the assassination of a prominent politician and to acquire for that task a bazooka, which finds its way into Clément’s coat closet. It is found there by his wife, Anne, played with heart-stopping capriciousness by Romy Schneider, who was never lovelier and who is capable of distracting everyone in the film, and the audience above all, from whatever grave political matters are afoot. Whether these are topical, allegorical or merely atmospheric can be difficult to assess. There is no doubt that the ambiguous shadow of France’s experience in World War II lingered into the early 1960s and beyond, and that tremors of domestic social unrest and war in Algeria can be discerned hovering outside the somber, elegant frames of this film. But it also seems that the movie’s main source of energy lies elsewhere, in the electromagnetic forces of desire, jealousy, violence and cinema itself. The plot wanders with a marvelous, slightly demented freedom from Paris to the countryside, from political thriller to romantic melodrama. Clément, cold and domineering with his wife, nonetheless expresses a kind of neurotic devotion to her and holds onto her loyalty despite (or perhaps by means of) his icy volatility. Until that is, he entrusts her to the care of his old friend Paul, a printer who lives in a charming mill and a state of equally alluring bohemian bachelor rusticity. … ‘Le Combat dans l’Île’ is the latest in what seems to be an endless parade of obscure or half-forgotten French films to find their way to Film Forum. If it is not quite a lost masterpiece on the order of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s ‘Quai des Orfèvres’ or Jean-Pierre Melville’s ‘Army of Shadows,’ it is nonetheless intriguing and absorbing — and also, thanks to Pierre Lhomme’s silvery and smoky cinematography and the natural gorgeousness of the cast — beautiful to behold. …”
NY Times
First Impressions
Kino Lorber
YouTube: “Le combat dans l’île” (trailer)

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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