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  Monsieur Hire A self-made scapegoat
Year: 1989
Director: Patrice Leconte
Stars: Michel Blanc, Sandrine Bonnaire, Luc Thullier, André Wilms, Eric Bérenger, Marielle Berthon, Philippe Dormoy, Marie Gaydu, Michel Morano, Nora Noël, Cristiana Réali
Genre: Drama, Thriller, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: A young woman is murdered and the killer is seen running into the apartment block occupied by Monsieur Hire (Michel Blanc). Suspicion falls on this reclusive, misanthropic oddball, shunned and mocked by his neighbours. By day, Monsieur Hire works as a tailor. At night he spies on the beautiful Alice (Sandrine Bonnaire) who lives in the apartment across the street, watching her get dressed and undressed. Alice is in love with a young man named Emile (Luc Thullier), but the couple have a secret to hide. When Alice catches sight of Monsieur Hire watching her one night, her unexpected reaction has a profound effect on the lonely, middle-aged voyeur.

Based on a novel by famed thriller writer Georges Simenon, Monsieur Hire was the film that shifted critical perception of Patrice Leconte from a maker of frothy comedies and action films into a significant French auteur. It did much the same for star Michel Blanc, hitherto thought of as largely a comic actor. Blanc co-founded the so-called Splendid comedy troupe alongside Thierry Lhermite, Josiane Balasko, Christian Clavier and Gérard Gugnot who found collective fame on the big screen in Leconte’s Les Bronzés (1978). Blanc’s stock-in-trade were comically quirky losers and hypochondriacs, qualities he deftly subverts with his poignant portayal of Monsieur Hire.

Voyeurism and romantic obsession are themes Patrice Leconte has continued to explore and subvert throughout his career, amidst repeated accusations of misogyny. Which seems strange given he is not Brian De Palma. It is romantic longing, not creepy sexual obsession that proves the pervading theme, albeit a twisted tenderness unique in cinema. The psychological games between the principle players border on flirtation, with Alice daring to reveal more and Monsieur Hire gently pushing to see more. Leconte dares to suggest something genuinely romantic could emerge from such a psychologically fraught situation. Of course in most cases, a young woman would simply call the police. Only later do we learn why Alice has been so indulgent towards someone whom she might ordinarily perceive as a mere pervert.

Prejudice proves the film’s other overriding theme and Leconte explores this by cannily turning the tables on the viewer, challenging our own preconceptions about the characters and what at first seems like a stock thriller set-up. When we first glimpse Monsieur Hire he seems a clownish figure, comically fastidious and buttoned down, though his bullying at the hands of his nasty neighbours engenders our sympathy. As we gradually discover more about his voyeuristic proclivities and obsessive liaisons with prostitutes at massage parlours, he appears a more threatening figure, someone possibly capable of murder. Leconte even reveals Monsieur Hire’s presence to Alice in classic horror movie fashion via a flash of lightning that illuminates his face at the window. However, the more we see of Hire’s sterile, loveless existence, the greater our understanding becomes of this lonely, self-loathing, ultimately pitiful figure longing for love.

Leconte’s elliptical approach works especially well, although crucially we learn very little about Emile, what his motivation might be or indeed what Alice sees in him. Alice is a similar enigma, her actions understandable, if not forgivable, only at the finale although so winningly inhabited by a radiant young Sandrine Bonnaire, she rings psychologically true. Leconte exhibits his flair for arresting imagery with an array of near-hypnotically dreamlike sequences, most notably the ice-skating scene that ends with Monsieur Hire falling flat on his face, bleeding and humiliated, his stalking of Alice revealed. Michael Nyman supplies the haunting score featuring choice excerpts from Johannes Brahms. It all builds up to a darkly melancholy romance where, ironically, the protagonist is so in love he fatally misjudges the lengths to which a person in a similar condition would go to for someone else. The tragedy lies not in being unable to love, but in loving too much.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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