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MOVIE REVIEW : ‘Hire’ a Subtle, Splendid Story of Seduction

TIMES FILM CRITIC

With his round black hat, pale face and black coat, Monsieur Hire, from the splendid movie of the same name, might have stepped straight out of a painting by Magritte; you half expect to be able to see blue sky and clouds straight through him.

Instead, this small, mysterious bachelor is at the heart of a luminous and hypnotic new film (at the Music Hall) made from one of the novels by the always-reliable Georges Simenon. Michel Blanc plays Hire and Sandrine Bonnaire plays his prey, the sensual young woman he watches every night from his window opposite hers in their old Paris apartment building.

Bonnaire and Blanc are an extraordinary pairing: the warm, carelessly seductive Alice and the reclusive, almost universally disliked Monsieur Hire, who spends most of his nights in the dark, listening to Brahms and staring at the yellow rectangle of light that is her apartment. What makes it creepy is that after the startling night when Alice catches Monsieur Hire at his compulsion, she doesn’t report him to the police. Instead, she uses her power over him to draw him into her life until they are both held by a delicately manipulated bond of eroticism.

It’s frightening for us, since we know that the milky-skinned, deeply emotional Hire is a suspect in the murder of the 22-year-old girl from the apartment next to his. An almost fatherly inspector (the craggy-faced Andre Wilms) is on the case, dropping in at odd moments to hound Hire, while at the same time director Patrice Leconte drops visual hints--a white mark on Hire’s black suit--that recall “M” and Peter Lorre’s psychopathic killer.

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The film’s last major character is the thuggish Emile (Luc Thuillier), plainly less in love with Alice than she is with him. And that is enough about the story, which is a skein of subtleties played with the utmost deliberation and intelligence. (The film is rated PG-13, since its eroticism is almost entirely suggested, not shown.)

The actors are fascinating. Blanc’s work has so many different levels and layers as he builds first sympathy for Hire, then fear about his motives, that it needs to be seen more than once to appreciate the depth involved.

Alice is one of Bonnaire’s rare sunny characters, a country girl from Provence with predictably lousy judgment about big-city men, but one who’s comfortable with her sexuality and blessedly unneurotic. Bonnaire has now shed every ounce of the puppy fat she had in “A Nos Amours” and in “Vagabond”; with the contours of her face defined this way, she’s become even more interesting to watch and she’s always been a compelling actress.

“Monsieur Hire” is marvelously all-of-a-piece. Denis Lenoir’s lighting camera work sets a mood that’s cool and detached; as a result, in retrospect this seems to be a film played out in bluish moonlight. The atmosphere is further deepened by the faintly ominous musical score of British avant-gardist Michael Nyman, known also for his music for the films of Peter Greenaway.

Director Leconte, who was also co-adapter with Patrick Dewolf, has deliberately made the period and even the location undefinable, an interesting idea that connects his film subliminally to French policiers of the ‘30s and ‘40s, to the Polanski of “The Tenant” or to early Hitchcock. Leconte also seems to like visual puns, like the one in which Hire, eating a soft-boiled egg, is shot from above and behind, the top of the egg and the top of his perfectly rounded balding head making an exact match.


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