by Jay Seaver
As "Ŕ Double Tour" opens, the beauty coming from the Marcoux house is enough to make men trip over their own feet, so drawn are their eyes to the half-dressed girl in the window. Of course, as most have by now come to expect, it is just the trappings of their prosperous life that shine so brightly - Julie is not a member of the family, but the maid. So, in a way, the beautiful servant is just another extension of the beautiful garden outside the beautiful house; a trapping of Henri Marcoux's success that doesn't reflect the strain and dissatisfaction within.Henri (Jacques Dacqmine), of course, has a mistress - a fabulous red-haired Italian girl named Léda (Antonella Lualdi) whose nearby home is filled with souvenirs from her life in the Orient. He's barely doing anything to conceal it, and his wife Thérčse (Madeline Robinson) is unwilling to divorce. Husband and wife both disapprove of Laszlo Kovacs (Jean-Paul Belmondo), the Czechoslovakian man their daughter Elisabeth (Jeanne Valérie) has taken up with, especially since he has brought a friend (László Szabó) with him to their house - the friend is polite and seems uninterested in participating in Laszlo's freeloading, but it's the principle of the thing. Son Richard (André Jocelyn), meanwhile, is the kind of unfailingly polite young man that has to be hiding something, and his awkward attempts to flirt with Julie (Bernadette Lafont), the maid, might give the audience a good idea what it is.
"The family as an organism, repelling invaders."
This being a film by Claude Chabrol, there will be a murder, and a detective (André Dino) come to solve it. The detective, of course, will be largely irrelevant; this murder is a family matter, and the Marcoux family figures it doesn't have a whole lot of reason to be forthcoming. The prime suspect appears to be Julie's boyfriend, and for her sake they would like it to be someone else - especially if that someone else was Laszlo. Not that Thérčse and Henri plan to offer their daughter's fiancé up to the police on a silver platter - no, they must be more subtle.
So Chabrol gives us a mystery without a sleuth, unless you figure that's what Laszlo is doing, but he is little more than mildly curious about who the murderer actually is; he's far more interested in observing the Marcoux family dynamics and maybe pushing at them until they start to break. Ultimately, that's what interests us, too - seeing how this group closes ranks, either clinging to the idea that it must have been an outsider or acting to protect one of their own even if the murderer hasn't revealed himself or herself. Anger and mistrust abound, but so does obligation and loyalty. The family becomes an organism of its own, for the most part self-contained - whatever Henri's business is, he's not very hands-on, though he's wealthy enough that neither of the children appears to work despite being adults - and instinctively repelling any attempt to breach it, whether the invasion comes by way of Léda, Laszlo, or the police.
The cells which make up this organism appear ordinary for the most part. Jeanne Valérie is perhaps the weakest link in the cast; she plays Elisabeth as so sheltered and traditional that it's difficult to see her connecting with Laszlo in the first place, let alone remain with him once it's clear that she lacks her parents' approval. She does crumple nicely when her time comes, though. André Jocelyn is playing a familiar type, the good-looking young man of means who becomes an expert in the arts because he's so divorced from the world that he has little else. Jacques Dacqmine and Madeline Robinson are also familiar; the middle-aged man tired of his bourgeois life and the woman unwilling to let him fully escape it because her whole life is invested in the status quo and, besides, she doesn't want to do anything to make him happy. Both individually and as a whole, the cast does a good job of capturing both the contention and the sense that there's a shared history that binds them together.
Of the "interlopers", Jean-Paul Belmondo's Laszlo Kovacs is by far the most intriguing. Some compare him to the snake in Eden, although I would wager this family was heading down a bad road before he ever arrived. We do believe in his ability to convince people to do things that they might not normally consider, from the moment we first see his convince his friend to join him at the Marcoux house to how he draws what he needs to know out of a killer. Such is his predatory charm that we want him on-screen even when he seems odious, and we can not only believe that he seduced Elisabeth, but did it with the idea of messing with her family. Léda, on the other hand, is generally friendly even to those she might have reason to fear. She's as much of a danger to the family's unity as Laszlo, perhaps more so, but one doesn't get the sense she'll do more than wait for it to fall apart.
Chabrol bounces back and forth in time a little, showing the murder at the end rather than when it occurs, and allowing us to see flashbacks of the victim, making the puzzle less abstract and providing clues to motive. I believe this is his first color film, but he doesn't use it garishly, instead using it to accentuate the differences between locations - Léda's house has a very different feel than the Marcouxes', which feels different than the city café where Laszlo and his friend meet. Chabrol also does a very nice job of keeping the film from bogging down; I'm notoriously impatient with films that spend more time talking than doing (they almost always seem more fascinating upon reflection than they are at the time), but this did a better job of keeping my interest while I was watching it than most. And when something does happen, it's creatively staged, such as the flashback to murder we see almost entirely in mirrors.That scene is a combination of suspense and experimentation with cinematic technique worthy of a comparison to Hitchcock, and though the whole of this early work doesn't quite measure up to the Master's best, it is not hard to see why Chabrol would build a reputation as one of the great directors of suspense.
link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15049&reviewer=371
originally posted: 08/16/06 09:20:40