Un roi sans divertissement (1963)

aka: A King Without Distraction
Crime / Drama


Un roi sans divertissement photo
In the nineteenth century, a young police captain, Langlois, is sent to a remote snow-covered village to investigate the disappearance of a girl. He is helped in his investigation by a local magistrate, who is convinced that the murderer is an ordinary man who has killed merely to relieve his boredom. When he finally confronts the killer, Langlois becomes aware of his own identity and discovers that he too has the impulse to take the lives of others…
© filmsdefrance.com 2012

Film Review

Film poster
Although he is perhaps best known for his leading role in Robert Bresson's 1956 film Un condamné à mort s'est échappé, François 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.

Whilst 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.
The above article was written for filmsdefrance.com and should not be reproduced in any medium without the author's permission.

Film Credits

Related articles

2015 film releases

Read more about the French films to be released in 2015...

The Silent Era

Before the advent of sound France was a world leader in cinema. Find out more about this overlooked era.

The Golden Age

Discover the best French films of the 1930s, a decade of cinematic delights...

The Occupation Era

Even in the dark days of the Occupation, French cinema continued to impress with its artistry and diversity.

The New Wave

A wave of fresh talent in the late 1950s, early 1960s brought about a dramatic renaissance in French cinema, placing the auteur at the core of France's 7th art.