Thursday, December 9, 2010

Le Voyou

The film opens with a flashing neon sign in the background underneath a bridge that reads "VOYOU" in big red letters. Le Voyou meaning "the thug". Four well dressed men stand in the foreground with their hands up. A 1920s vintage car passes behind them and machine gun fire mows them all down. The car spins around in a circle and gangsters pile out carrying machine guns. Sexy women in showgirl outfits step out along with a black man in a long white suit and purple hat. They jump into a dance number in which the man sings about his life of crime for which he must pay dearly for. It's a catchy theme song that highlights a beautiful score by Francis Lai.

This turns out to be a film within the actual film that two characters sit in a cinema and watch. It comically counteracts the serious action that's about to be unravelled in the movie.

LE VOYOU, known in North America as THE CROOK is a 1970 film directed by Claude LeLouch (A Man and a Woman) The trailer announces that this is LeLouch's own particular take on crime, and it truly is. When I purchased this film on DVD, I was expecting a French take on something like John Boorman's POINT BLANK (1967) instead LE VOYOU is a playful, witty and unpredicatable crime caper with the underrated Jean Louis Trintignant (The Great Silence) the wonderful sad faced actor, in the title role. He plays Simon, a focused and intense criminal who does whatever it takes to elude capture from the authorities and survive. After escaping from prison, he takes advantage of an old female friend by using her apartment as a safe house. He is charming but cold and calculating. He has hidden away 100,000 francs from a previous job and he is determined to intercept it without interference from the cops.

Simon reunites with his ex-wife (the beautiful Daniele Delorme). They team up on a plan to scam a banker and his family in which they kidnap their son for one million in ransom. The caper pays off but not without complications. The story concludes with our anti-hero keeping himself several steps ahead of everyone and finally irony piles upon more irony in a crafty and funny conclusion.

That's all I will describe of the plot, which unfolds with great surprises, humor and inspired storytelling to compliment the dark nature of the character and his actions. Simon shows tenderness to his child and ex-wife, who is complicit in his illegal deeds. Despite his relentless intensity, it's kind of easy to like Simon since he falls under the thief with a heard of gold category. The child they kidnap thinks he's spending time with Santa--Delorme dressed as Ol' Saint Nick.

Trintignant is a great actor. See him in his mute performance as a gunslinger wanting vengeance against Klaus Kinski in the great spaghetti western THE GREAT SILENCE (1968) He also gave a wonderful performance in Bernardo Bertolucci's THE CONFORMIST (1970) When people think of French new wave cinema, they think of Jean Paul Belmondo or Alain Delon. Tringinant is under appreciated in my opinion. THE CROOK is a unsung gem of international crime cinema and a perfect example of his striking screen prescence.

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