Caught up with LE COUPERET ~ Costa-Gavras adapts Donald Westlake, translating the blackly comic crime novel The Ax to French soil with a good bit more fidelity than Godard used when casting Anna Karena as Parker in MADE IN USA, a version of Westlake’s The Jugger. The film is faithful enough to win a came from the author. This is followed by a more surprising cameo by John Landis. I realized Landis must have had a cameo by C-G in one of his films, and the favour was being returned — then I looked into it and realized C-G has been in THREE John Landis films. It’s an obsession.
Anyway, Costa-Gavras was kind about my film with Paul Duane, NATAN, so now I have to explain that, in the interests of full disclosure. I’m not biased in favour of the genius auteur of Z and MISSING…
The trick for C-G, when he’s pursuing his usual calling as a maker of political thrillers, is to find a thriller narrative which can serve as a way into an important subject without cheapening the issues or getting weighed down by them. LE COUPERET is a razor-sharp, fleet-footed black comedy murder tale about the economy — Jose Garcia loses his job as a paper company exec due to downsizing and outsourcing. After two years unemployment, he’s acquired an angry edge and is no longer the kind of person companies want to hire. Also, his marriage is breaking up and he’s on the verge of losing his house. Curious about the competition, he plays a fake job ad and sifts through the applicants, deciding that there are only five people out there for him to worry about. Bingo — all he has to do is assassinate those five men and one job-holder, and he can get hired.
We might not believe anybody would do this, but we can’t escape the logic that this is the kind of behaviour society actively encourages. The hero is smart enough to know that the innocents he’s bumping off are not his true enemy, but the people who have caused his problems are beyond his reach and punishing them wouldn’t improve his current position at all. It’s the people with the same problems as himself, people he can easily empathize with, who have to go.
This is a very black comedy indeed, played more or less completely straight and all the more wickedly amusing for it. The film-making is deft, rapid-fire and intense, with lots of tight shots, POVs that reframe rapidly as our man calculates each perilous situation, and, courtesy of the masterful Westlake, no shortage of tense situations to get that camera jittering.
Costa-Gavras adds only one flourish of caricature, decorating the streets with a series of chic, sexy, slightly sinister advertisements for unnamed products, hinting at the world of consumer pleasure the hero is no longer part of. Some of these images are mildly murderous in themselves ~
But they’re used subtly enough (OK, maybe not that one) to make us initially unsure if they were set dressing or actual found material. Only their slow, deadpan accretion tips the filmmaker’s hand. I thought of THEY LIVE.
Tip-top stuff. Dynamic, tight as a drum, dryly hilarious and meaningful to boot. My shame at not having seen that many non-US Costa-Gavras films is mitigated at my glee at having so many to look forward to.