Although he is perhaps best known for his leading role in Robert Bresson's 1956
condamné à mort s'est échappé
Leterrier's most significant contribution to French cinema is his work as a director.
Un roi sans divertissement
is his second film,
an interesting adaptation of a novel by the acclaimed author Jean Giono (who also wrote
the film's screenplay).
This is an unusual, very distinctive work which doesn't easily fit into any
of the familiar cinema genres. Whilst the plot centres on a murder investigation,
implying the film should be a variant on the crime-thriller genre, it is framed as an
unsettling mix of ghost story, mystery and psychological drama. The film is best
summarised as an exploration of the darker side of human nature, as it portrays the gradual
corruption of an apparently decent young man by his bestial subconscious self. The
latter is awoken through the hero's contact with a murderer, whose bloody acts stain
not just the pristine white snow of the location but also the unblemished soul of the
hero. The mysterious reclusive magistrate also plays a pivotal part in Langlois'
transformation, planting the seed of an idea in his mind which will make the police captain
an easier prey for his darker inner self when the latter manages to surface.
the film is haunting and acutely poetic, it is also painfully slow moving and pedestrian
in parts. Scenes of silhouettes trudging at a snail's pace through a snowy
landscape have a certain minimalist beauty but they drag the narrative down to a barely
tolerable crawl in places. Also, the complexity and richness of Jean Giono's
original novel is lacking in this film adaptation, which is a much more superficial work
by comparison. Against these faults should be set some significant artistic pluses.
The location cinematography is exquisitely beautiful, magnificently capturing the barren
isolation of the film's setting and conveying a palpable sense of ennui and existentialist
void, something which serves the narrative better than its woodenly scripted dialogue.
The film's small cast is well-appointed and well-used. Claude Giraud
(a surprisingly little known actor) is effective in the leading role of the young police
captain, and there is an appropriately chilling performance from Charles Vanel, one of
the great luminaries of French cinema.
Despite some obvious weaknesses, Un
roi sans divertissement
is a film that has an indefinable charm and is sufficiently
unusual to hold its spectators' interest, even if it is lacking in content and is
badly paced. The film makes its real impact in its final five minutes or so, when
the terror of Langlois' self-realisation of the monster he has become suddenly hits
home with the force of the greatest Greek tragedy. The icing on this particular
cinematic gâteau is an appropriate ballad (“Pourquoi faut-il que les hommes
s'ennuient?”) which was composed and sung by Jacques Brel especially for this film
- something which adds greatly to the languorous and haunting mood of the piece.
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