Jacques Audiard made his directorial debut in a spectacular fashion with Regarde les hommes tomber, one of the most visually striking and disturbing French thrillers of the 1990s. The son of the acclaimed French screenwriter Michel Audiard, he had scripted several films (going back to the mid-1970s) before he gravitated to the role of director and pretty well redefined the French film noir with this and his subsequent thriller offerings – Sur mes lèvres (2001), De battre mon coeur s’est arrêté (2005) and, of course, the stunning Un prophète (2009). Those aspects which most characterise Audiard’s distinctive brand of cinema – the nihilistic bleakness, the fragmented narrative, the assortment of fragile outcasts living on the abyss – are present in his first film, an idiosyncratic study in solitude and friendship.
To date, all of Jacques Audiard’s forays into film noir territory have been grim existentialist portraits of social misfits desperately searching for identity in a world that is almost totally lacking in purpose and compassion. Regarde les hommes tomber follows the same pattern, skilfully weaving together the stories of three disparate characters who are each on the same quest, to find meaning in their empty, loveless lives. The film’s disjointed feel serves to evoke the fragmented consciousness of these pathetic individuals, souls lost in a sea of abject despair, whilst the visual composition, dominated by threatening blocks of shadow, makes them resemble candles that are on the point of being snuffed out. The two older characters, Simon and Marx, are virtually equivalent, embittered and solitary men who, well into middle-age, have allowed themselves to be driven to the margins of society, despite their obvious need for status and companionship. Regarde les hommes tomber may employ many of the trappings of the French polar, but it is actually less a conventional thriller and more a twisted fairy tale, one with some very sinister and murky undertones.
Whilst he is clearly influenced by film noir thrillers, particularly French policiers, of the past, Audiard succeeds in imposing his own mark on a tried and tested formula, and delivers a film that is both stylistically brilliant and rich in complexity. Regarde les hommes tomber may not be as sharply focussed nor as devastatingly slick as Audiard’s subsequent films but it is nonetheless an intensely fascinating piece of cinema, an excursion into the darker places of the human soul that undulates unpredictably between black comedy and brutally vicious thriller-drama whilst telling a story, one man’s search for meaning in a desolate universe, that is as compassionate as it is unremittingly bleak.
What makes this film so particularly enthralling are the spellbinding contributions from the three lead actors, a cast line-up that sees the one and only screen pairing of two legends of French cinema, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Jean Yanne. So vividly do Trintignant and Yanne convey the inner torment of hopeless wretches lost in a loveless and seemingly pointless cosmos that the spectator is compelled to sympathise with them, in spite of their characters’ obvious shortcomings. In contrast to Yanne, who is so accustomed to playing le vieux con that you can hardly imagine him in any other role, Trintignant is cast against type, for once playing a rough, thoroughly cynical individual who has none of the actor’s habitual romantic charm and elegance. So well do Yanne and Trintignant complement one another (each looking like a distorted reflection of the other) that you can hardly believe that no other director ever thought to bring them together before.
The third member of the film’s triumvirate of acting talent is Mathieu Kassovitz, the boy wonder who went on to direct La Haine (1995), one of the finest and most talked about French films of the 1990s. Not only is Kassovitz an inspired filmmaker, he is also a very capable actor, as he demonstrates here with his harrowingly believable portrayal of a mentally handicapped youngster with severe learning and emotional difficulties. The sublime innocence of Kassovitz’s character makes a stark contrast with the cruel venality of the world he inhabits, making him tragically vulnerable to the forces of corruption which will transform him into a conscienceless killer. Mathieu Kassovitz won a César in 1995 for his remarkable performance in this film (in the Most Promising Actor category). The film also won Césars in the Best Editing and Best First Work categories, marking an auspicious debut for a filmmaker who, like his father, would leave an indelible impression on French cinema. Welcome to the world of Jacques Audiard, a dark and tormented place which, for many, will prove to have an irresistible allure.
1.41GB | 1h 35mn | 915×572 | mkv