With his terse, intricately structured "Thieves," France's formidable Andre Techine reunites his "Ma Saison Preferee" stars Catherine Deneuve and Daniel Auteuil and continues his exploration of thorny family relationships--and this time, an even thornier menage a trois as well.
The result is a somber, darkly witty, engrossing film with a driving, relentless pace. Right away you sense Techine is going to take you to some moment of emotional truth, the nature of which is as unpredictable as life itself.
In their earlier teaming, Deneuve and Auteuil were a sister and brother whose personalities clash when confronted with a crusty, independent mother felled by a stroke. This time Auteuil has a brother with whom he tangles, and the way in which Deneuve enters the story is just one of its many surprises.
Auteuil's Alex is a glum, prickly policeman in Lyons, where his ruthless older brother Ivan (Didier Bezace), a gangster, runs a nightclub. The irony is that a young woman, Juliette (Laurence Co^te), he lets off on a shoplifting charge also has a slightly older brother (Benoit Magimel), who Alex does not know is Ivan's second-in-command in the gang.
The further irony is that when Juliette and Alex commence an affair, he does not learn till somewhat later that she's also in a serious romance with her beautiful philosophy professor, Marie (Deneuve), the woman Juliette sees as her role model. Events force the street-smart but anti-intellectual Alex and the brilliant, highly cultured Marie to come to tentative terms with each other in the name of Juliette's best interests, just as the brother and sister did in "Ma Saison Preferee" in regard to their mother's welfare.
Craggy-featured and capable of ferocious concentration and intensity, Auteuil is always terrific at playing profoundly emotionally impacted men. He's an edgy actor, and you suspect that Deneuve, consummately skilled actress that she is, loves the challenge of the sharp byplay Auteuil presents.
Alex and Juliette (who is also played with maximum vulnerability and defiance by Co^te) are people with low self-esteem, and Alex figures that what makes their affair so hot is their mutual contempt for each other. A divorced mother and grandmother who lives modestly, Marie, in an encounter with her ex-husband, reflects that marriages can't endure unless the couple has found a way of expressing rage.
In telling his tightly coiled tale, Techine leapfrogs from the point of view of one character to the next, moving back and forth in time in the process, a technique that adds both suspense--the film on one level is a murder mystery--and dimension to its many people and their complexities. As he has done throughout his 25-year, 13-film career, Techine uses provincial settings for the freshness their relative unfamiliarity offers while resisting opportunities to take self-consciously beautiful shots such locales often present.
Techine is daring in his use of coincidence, but it pays off handsomely because he's been able to make it set off the exceedingly complicated and contradictory emotions most people feel in regard to themselves and those they love, and beyond that, the eternal inter-working of fate and choice. "Thieves" further assures Techine's place in the front rank of international filmmakers.
* MPAA rating: R, for strong sexuality, some violent moments and language. Times guidelines: The film has one especially aggressive and graphic sex scene.
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Catherine Deneuve: Marie
Daniel Auteuil: Alex
Laurence Co^te: Juliette
Benoit Magimel: Jimmy
A Sony Pictures Classics release. Director Andre Techine. Producer Alain Sarde. Screenplay by Techine, Gilles Taurand in collaboration with Michel Alexandre and Pascal Bonitzer. Cinematographer Jeanne Lapoirie. Editor Martine Giordano. Costumes Elisabeth Tavernier. Music Philippe Sarde. Production designer Ze Branco. In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes.
* At selected theaters in Los Angeles and Orange counties.