Monsieur Hire

Monsieur Hire is a detective story that utterly transcends the genre. The elements of the detective story are all there: a crime (the murder of a 22 year old girl), a cop (unlikable, meanly intrusive), a suspect (Monsieur Hire – a tailor, a loner disliked by his neighbors), a beautiful girl, evidence, clues, red herrings. Director Patrice Leconte slowly lets the story unfold, building character with each scene, delivering twists and turns of plot that surprise, but are fully motivated and totally believable.

Even as the main titles (plain white lettering on a black screen) are rolling, Leconte uses background sound effects to create a sense of place, a mood. Monsieur Hire (Michel Blanc), we discover, is a voyeur, watching a neighbor, Alice (Sandrine Bonnaire), from his window, while he plays Brahms on his phonograph. (It is the Brahms Piano Quartet, Opus 25, and the theme is a haunting melody, powerfully evoking feelings of yearning. CV first heard this music in this film and it has been a favorite ever since.) Alice, before long, discovers that Hire is watching her – and the game of cat and mouse is engaged.

CV, as regular readers know, does not like to divulge too much of the story; we do not want to dilute your viewing pleasure. Be assured that you will not only be caught up in an engrossing plot line, but also that Leconte will share with you fascinating insights into the subtleties of love and loving, of loneliness and need. And he does it with a director’s eye that is both stylish and artistic. Image afterimage crosses the screen, stunningly photographed, drawn from the elements of the story, in a literal sense, but always having resonance beyond the literal and into the explication of character. White mice, pigeons, a spilled bag of tomatoes, ice skating, bowling, a blindfold, perfume bottles. Oh, yes – Leconte not only offers the visual and the aural, he also uses the sense of smell. And the sense of touch plays a role, too. Themes emerge about looking and seeing – and not seeing; touching and feeling – and not feeling.

The acting is first rate throughout and the score – beyond the Brahms – is used sparingly, but perfectly enhances the mood, the tension, the total effect. You will not soon forget this film.

Arthur Lazere

San Francisco, CA
Mr. Lazere founded culturevulture.net in 1998 and worked tirelessly to promote its potential as a means for communicating a distinctly personal yet wide-ranging selection of arts reviews. Under his leadership, the site grew in esteem as well as in “circulation", and is well-regarded nationally and internationally as a source for up-to-date, well-written criticism. Arthur passed away on September 30, 2006.