Archive for October 2, 2010

Detective Dinosaur

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on October 2, 2010 by dcairns

LE PACHA (AKA PASHA), directed by Georges Lautner, revolves around Jean Gabin, playing a detective superintendent six months from retirement, pulling out all the stops to catch a jewel thief who’s murdered all his accomplices, including an old pal of Gabin’s from the resistance. And when I say “revolves around”, you can take that almost literally, since Gabin at 63 was not the most agile leading man. Already in LE PLAISIR, sixteen years previously, he was heavy and aged, his run a lumbering, painful process. Still with almost a decade of leading roles ahead of him now, this 1967 performance uses him as a sort of anchoring rock, sat behind desks or in cars, occasionally ambling alongside the camera tracks, forcing a slower pace.

All the zip-pan sixties antics and action scenes staged around supporting players just emphasise how much the film has to decelerate when the hero is onscreen. Lautner, a former AD, gives us a stripshow and a cameo from Serge Gainsbourg and a nightclub called “Hippies”, but he’s obviously on Gabin’s side, looking back at  a bygone Paris and bemoaning the concrete and immigrants transforming it. (And the movie does seem to dislike both equally.)

A movie like this has a tricky route to navigate — inserting liberal criticism of the cops would dilute it, but presenting too fawning a view robs it of the only defense for this kind of tough flic flick, that of truthfulness. And Lautner seems to be wholly on the side of his tec, even when said protag is intimidating beating witnesses. While Melville was a rightwinger with some surprising liberal tendencies, Lautner only films minorities to create an aura of lawlessness or decadence. Alright, he clearly has a slightly salacious yen for that decadence (personified here by Dany Carrel in a Paco Rabanne type dress), but that’s not the same as sympathy. It’s all very DIRTY HARRY, without a Don Siegel at the helm to try and get at least a little nuance into it.

Still, Gabin is himself, a majestic antediluvian survivor. No other star of his era of French cinema seemed to maintain a presence on the scene the way he did, and it seems he did it by his very refusal to adapt. At times he seems on the verge of going over the top, letting his explosive energy dissipate itself the way it never did in the 30s and 40s, where it would simmer behind his eyes and erupt only in a single scene of fury. Here, there’s a swivel-eyed exasperation with the bureaucrats and petty crooks which threatens to make him tiresomely grumpy. But the few scenes with Carrel (really just an extended cameo from the Da Nang sexpot, but she gets to do proper acting and stay clothed) soften his surliness just enough, and the old saurian still has a little magic.