‘Francois Leclerc returns to his home, an industrial town in northern France, after serving a seven year prison sentence for a murder he did not commit. He recalls the events which led up to his trial, beginning with his romance with Gilberte Liegeard, daughter of a powerful industrialist, and the spectacular opportunities for social climbing this offered him.Before his fall from grace, Leclerc was a popular figure, managing an exclusive night club. But he had some dangerous enemies, who implicated him in a double murder. Seven years on, Leclerc is determined to have his revenge…’
– Films de France
Seven years after being imprisoned for a double murder he did not commit, Francois Leclercq (Jean-Paul Belmondo) returns to his textile manufacturing home town to look up old acquaintances and to exact revenge on those who had betrayed him. But there are still people in town who want Francois out, and are not opposed to violence to achieve it. Seven years before Francois, a boy from the working class, had romanced Gilberte Liegeard (Marie-France Pisier), only daughter of the town’s wealthy industrial baron, Jean-Baptiste Liegeard (Bernard Blier). In her company Francois started to move in wealthy circles with the Liegeard family and their political allies before Gilberte married into another wealthy family.
Francois had used his connections to start a high class nightclub, where most things were available for a price. But when Francois refuses to allow the sale of drugs, two people are murdered in the club with Francois’ pistol and he is implicated by club manager Raphael Di Massa (Francois Perrot), found guilty and gaoled. Now, as Francois works his way through the old club employees and childhood friends in search of Di Massa, it seems that Gilberte may just hold one of the keys to the mystery.
The Body of My Enemy (Le corps de mon ennemi) is directed by Henri Verneuil, who had worked previously with Belmondo in the excellent WW2 drama Weekend At Dunkirk. Just the year before The Body of My Enemy, 1975, they had also collaborated in the action classic Peur sur la ville, which includes some wonderful stunts, including one of Belmondo’s most famous: a sequence filmed on top of a speeding Metro train! In The Body of My Enemy, in contrast, Verneuil stripped away all the physical action, wanting to show Belmondo’s acting abilities.
Indeed, The Body of My Enemy is primarily an intelligent, slow building mystery. There is a lot of dialogue as Francois visits various characters from his past in his attempts to piece together both the identity of the real murderer and the reason behind it. In this more character driven role, Belmondo acquits himself well and he is supported by a strong cast of believable, if oddball characters, in small roles including Claude Brosset as the ex-bouncer who has found a new occupation, Nicole Garcia as the ex-club girl and Michel Beaune as Francois’ childhood friend. But this is clearly Belmondo’s film and in essentially two roles (past life and present) he is never off screen.
There are other pluses. The film’s backstory is told in a series of flashbacks, which are not chronological, juxtaposed with Francois’ present search. This could be confusing, especially as Belmondo has deliberately not been aged so looks the same in both time periods (the film itself explains that this is him remembering the past, and that he sees himself looking the same as he is now), but director Verneuil has a firm grip on the narrative so it is never an issue. The film also looks great, and indeed the town of Lille, where the film was shot, with its run down streets and factories on the cityscape looks perfect for the search of Francois into his past.
The Body of My Enemy is an intelligent mystery that eschews the stunts of many Belmondo films in favour of something more compelling. Belmondo acquits himself well and is supported by a strong cast of believable, if oddball, characters. The flashback structure of the film is well handled by director Henri Verneuil and the film looks great.
— Ray Nyland (michaeldvd.com)
Subtitles:English, French (muxed, srt)