"Monsieur Hire," which opens today at the Charles, seems designed to illustrate the universe's one immutable law: no good deed goes unpunished.
A macabre, erotic French psychological mystery, it's derived from a novel by the prolific Georg Simeon so old it was previously made into a film in 1946. And, true to Simeon, it's not really interested in the crime on which it pivots or upon a "solution" to that crime, both of which it handles quite perfunctorily; rather it uses these issues merely as a fulcrum on which to turn the story toward the spectacularly misformed participants in and witnesses to the murder.
The movie in fact dispenses with genre expectations almost instantly; we open at the site of a murder in a vacant Parisian lot. A beautiful young girl has been killed; a depressed, "humane" policeman wearily takes up the mission of finding her slayer. "82nd Arondissment," anyone? But no. The policeman is swiftly dispensed with, and becomes a minor character.
Rather, the film, directed by Patrice Leconte, quickly settles on the prime suspect as its focus. Monsieur Hire is a tailor, a balding little study in anal-retentativeness, an icy, isolated, stoic figure who may or may not have been seen fleeing the scene of the crime.
Quickly enough, we have entered the strange world of M. Hire (Michel Blanc), a former deviate whose social life now consists of sitting at his window and watching the girl across the way undress and preen, or make love with her boyfriend. Quel geek!
In any event, Hire is not perturbed to be an object of suspicion. What does perturb him is that the girl, Alice (Sandrine Bonnaire), notices him one night. What perturbs him even more is that rather than being horrified by his long-distance adoration, she actually reaches out. Touched, she tries to draw him into her life, to repair whatever great psychic wound has deprived him of personality and humanity.
Leconte is fascinated by this relationship. Essentially he invites us into the weird union between voyeur and exhibitionist, letting his camera linger behind the peeper's shoulders, showing us, at the same time, how much his quarry enjoys the game, too. The gleaming cinematography by Denis Lenoir (can that really be his name?) is part of the cold precision of the film, too, luring us in, seducing us with its austere texture against which the occasional glimpses of flesh seem incredibly charged.
Filled with deviant sexuality and turning on a crime, "Monsieur Hire's" biggest surprise is that it turns out to be about bountiful, sacrificial radiant love. M. Hire has one good deed in him. And when he performs it, boy, does he get in trouble.
Starring Michel Blanc and Sandrine Bonnaire.
Directed by Patrice Leconte.
Released by Orion Classics.