The Clockmaker (Bertrand Tavernier / France, 1974):
(L'Horloger de Saint-Paul)

Post-’68 France as "a curious country" of befuddled fathers and obscured revolutionaries. The middle-aged Everyhomme (Philippe Noiret) is a widowed watch-tinkerer in Lyon, who gets his politics from TV news and "likes to be legal" too much to cross a red light on an empty street. The necessary shock arrives: His son (Sylvain Rougerie) is on the run, having killed a factory security guard. Gallicizing Georges Simenon’s novel, Bertrand Tavernier handles the moment with control, self-effacement, and muted compassion: Noiret’s dazed bus ride back home after being told the news, the activist paraphernalia in the boy’s room (scrawled on the wall is Céline’s dictum about pastoral battlefields) unnoticed by an imploding father fumbling for a bed. A longtime critic, Tavernier has already learned all about the unnoticeable moving camera and the offscreen event that colors every character and relationship. The murder, no bit of adolescent existentialism but a militant act of protest, is never seen yet it propels Noiret to reconsider his values vis-à-vis the law (police inspector Jean Rochefort), the media (journalist Clotilde Joano), and politics (left-leaning pal and Tavernier lookalike Jacques Denis). "Paint not the thing but the effect it produces," goes Mallarmé. Slowly and lovingly, a portrait of radicals and reactionaries emerges, of parents talking about the mysteries of their children while buying fruit at the market, of people revealing themselves in the way they put on their coats or cut the meat on their plates. And, in Noiret’s dignified-clown slouch, of old men still able to surprise themselves with a newfound engagement with the world -- the train hurtling through the darkness in the opening becomes the final image of the locomotive pulling into airy Lyon Station. The flaming automobile carcass is next seen in Let Joy Reign Supreme, "executions will be televised in primetime" (Deathwatch). With Christine Pascal, Yves Afonso, Julien Bertheau, Jacques Hilling, William Sabatier, and Andrée Tainsy.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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