The final recommendation that accompanied Greed in Great Movies – 100 Years of Film is a slow burn of a drama, that moves to an inescapable and lonely climax.
Jean Yanne is Paul Thomas ‘Popaul’, a vet who has returned home to the village in which he grew up, to run the local butchery. During the opening scene, we see him and the rest of the population at a local wedding between a school teacher and his new bride.
He is joined there by the school’s headmistress, Helene (Stephane Audran), and the two begin a friendship, with overtures of romance hanging between them, though Helene is reticent to pursue a relationship after the way her last affair ended.
Despite her misgivings a friendship does begin to form, and serving as counterpoint to it, as the revelation that there has been a murder, wonderfully hinted at in silence as we watch children playing in the schoolyard, being crosscut with police arriving at the front of the building with a search dog, and walking past the yard to a crime scene.
As the two new friends celebrate Paul’s birthday, with the gift of a stylish lighter, the murder seems a distant thing, but when Helene takes her schoolchildren on an expedition, and their lunch is ruined by the discovery of a new body, the schoolteacher’s new wife, things go from bad to worse.
Especially, when Helene keeps a piece of evidence from the crime scene. A stylish lighter.
From there, a game of cat and mouse begins as we are left to wonder, after another revelation, whether Paul is capable of committing these murders or not.
As mentioned, this is a slow burning film, more interested in character, than it is in unnerving moments, but as such, we begin to care for Helene.
Towards the climax, when she’s securing the schoolhouse late at night, it’s actually very tense, and a single flick of a switch was more troubling than any number of jumps the film could have shoe-horned in if it had been Americanized.
The tiny French village is the perfect backdrop for the story, and the locations are lovely.
As we move closer to the climax and learn more about the characters, Paul’s character reveals in the last few minutes, how important Helene came to be to him, after all the horrors of the war, she was the one thing that could silence all he’d heard, all the blood he’d seen, and that he was willing to sacrifice himself to prevent her from coming to harm, it’s obvious how he truly felt about her.
This is yet another film that I had never heard of, but now having seen it, I wonder how I could have missed it for all this time. It’s nicely crafted, and once Helene comes across the murder scene, the film almost begins to feel like a Hitchcock outing, there’s an added tension to it, as we watch Helene and Paul begin to dance around each other.
Have you seen this one? If not have a look at it and let me know what you think!