Monday, September 1, 2008

Movies: Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows)

Here is one of the stranger, more elaborate noir plots I've encountered: Moreau is Florence Carala, and her lover, Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet) gets stuck in an elevator just after killing her husband. He spends the night trapped; in the meantime, a young couple steals his convertible for a joyride, uses his name when they check into a motel, and then kill another couple when they're caught trying to steal their Mercedes. They skip out in the middle of the night, and the police begin searching for the killer: Julien Tavernier. Once they find him, he's hesitant to confess his alibi, since it will link him to Carala's murder. Thanks, however, to the developed photos from the miniature camera in Tavernier's glove box (both of him with Ms. Carala and of the actual killers drinking champagne with the victims), all the murders are solved.

And yet it is more a tone poem for film than a thriller. Director Malle seems to completely rely on the moody Miles Davis score to color the smoky closeups of Jeanne Moreau's face with relevant emotion, to a degree that the movie seems more an illustration of the music than the music an accompaniment to the film. The score outperforms the picture to such a degree that when the music fades away to give room for Moreau's voice (which is saddled with a clumsy, overwrought voice over), our attention flags. And though Moreau became the star, Yori Bertin, who plays the young Véronique is far more interesting, mercurial, promising, even if it's sacrilege to say so.

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