Point de chute – or the day I started to identify with Johnny Hallyday

Point de chute (Falling Point) is the first film I ever saw with Robert Hossein as director. I thought it was wonderful – even if it did star Johnny Hallyday. I’ve never been a fan of Hallyday’s but it seems he really is a rather good actor. I had already seen him in Patrice Leconte’s L’Homme du train (The Man on the Train) and he was excellent in that too. It’s a pity he didn’t prioritise his acting career over his music.

Anyway, this film is one of my favourite films now and it made me seek out other films directed by Robert Hossein. I’ve seen a few – there’s no doubt he’s a real talent as both an actor and a director. I read somewhere, though, that Point de chute was a rip-off of another movie – Hubert Cornfield’s film of 1968 (pre-dating Point de chute by two years) The Night of the Following Day. I took a look at the plot summary of this film and it certainly sounds very similar but I can’t imagine that it could actually be a better film than Point de chute – it seems to be more sordid and brutal. Point de chute is a film of subtleties; it’s very sensitive. Actually, it’s perfect.  I couldn’t stop thinking about it after I saw it and when I later saw Robert Hossein’s 1969 film Un corde, un colt (The Rope and the Colt) with a very similar escape scene (a red haired lady running through the sand) and the crumbling of food at the dinner table, it reminded me of Point de chute and I decided I should write something about it. It’s been a long time coming but here it is finally:

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* SPOILER ALERT * The article below contains the entire plot of the film

The plot summary is that a gang of criminals kidnap the daughter of a wealthy man and demand a ransom. The girl is taken to a cabin on a deserted beach until the ransom has been the paid. One of the criminals, Vlad, is appointed to keep an eye on the girl whilst the other gang members make contact with the family and organise delivery of the ransom. Vlad and the girl wait patiently for payment to be made – once payment has been received she will be freed and he will also be able to leave the isolation of the cabin. But the girl sees Vlad without his disguise on and so the gang leader has decided that it is too dangerous to let her go once the ransom has been paid. Vlad, who they hold responsible for this incident, will have to kill the girl. The ransom is a long time in coming though and Vlad and the girl slowly develop an understanding of each other. This makes it impossible for Vlad to kill the girl and when the gang turn up with his share of the ransom money they find the girl still alive. Vlad won’t let the gang kill her and he turns his gun instead on the gang. He lets the girl go free and takes the gang leader’s car so he can escape himself. But the car won’t start and as Vlad heads off along the beach on foot, the gang leader takes a rifle from the car and shoots Vlad in the back. The girl, hearing the gun shot and seeing Vlad collapse, runs back to him and is subsequently shot herself. They try to reach other by crawling through the sand and are within a hand’s reach of other when they die.

There are five main characters in the story: Johnny Hallyday is Vlad (also known as the Romanian); Pascale Rivault is the girl; Robert Hossein is the boss; Albert Minski is Eddy (the other gang member); Robert Dalban is the Inspector.

The story is basic enough but it’s the way Robert Hossein, as director, manages to draw the spectator into the narrative and gets you to identify with the characters that makes it so good. The film is shot in both colour and black and white – the significance of this becomes clear as the story develops. The black and white sequences are events following the deaths of the two main protagonists – Vlad and the girl – and are confined to the police inspector and his investigations. The colour scenes are flashbacks to the kidnapping and the events leading up to the deaths. The flashbacks contain information that the inspector is not privy to and may never know but the black and white sequences act as an aid to assist us with our journey through the story.

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The film starts with a black and white sequence where the police inspector enters the cabin on the beach. He sees books, beer cans, a flute, masks and a radio. He notices bullet holes in the door.

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The two masks here resemble the two dead protagonists at the end of the film

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Then he goes upstairs to a room where he finds some crumpled up notes on the floor. He reads the notes to himself and we hear his inner voice: “How long are they going to keep me here? I’m afraid.” and “They locked me in the attic. I’m cold. I don’t know how long they’re going to keep me here. I feel sick.” He finds a notebook hidden under the mattress and reads what is written – “I have to find a way out. I don’t know how to do it with that horrible guy downstairs. I can see him between the door’s planks.”

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The police inspector then closes the door and looks through the hole in the door.

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The main story is cued by the inspector’s reading of “I can see him between the door’s planks” and the act of looking through the hole – the next scene is in colour and it is a girl looking through the hole.

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Is the inspector trying to identify with the hostage? And are we, as spectator, identifying with the inspector? At this point we don’t know quite where we’re situated – we know less than the inspector knows because we do not know the reason the police are investigating on the beach. But we hope that his investigations will lead us through the entire story – as it turns out we only identify with the inspector in the respect that he is looking to solve the mystery of what happened to the girl and we also want to know what happened. We have identified with him to a certain extent – seeing the items on the table as he saw them (from his point of view) and we have also been privy to his inner voice when he read the notes out to himself – but on one occasion when the inspector reads the girl’s notebooks the internal sound we hear is of the girl herself reading it out. From this point forward the information we witness as spectator is more detailed and differs to the information available to the inspector.

The narration is, on the whole, unrestricted. As a spectator we know and see more than anyone else. We see things that Vlad does not see and we see things that the girl does not see. We know more than the inspector. In order to identify with the two protagonists we need to see and hear what they see and hear. But we’re not identifying with just one of the protagonists, spectator placement alternates between the two characters and we identify with both of them – and, interestingly, they begin to identify with each other too.

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The narrative is not completely unrestricted – we never learn whether the girl’s dad called the police; we don’t know what the boss and Eddy are doing away from the cabin. Our views shift constantly between Vlad and the girl, seeing their external behaviour and also shots from their point of view or sound perspective. I would argue that we identify slightly more with Vlad than the girl (we never even learn her name) because we go into his mind more – when he imagines the girl at school and when he imagines her running along the beach. We know from accessing his fantasy visions that he is thinking about the girl’s life, the life she led, and that he can see her smiling at him and then in fear of him: he knows from reading her note book that she thinks he is nice but she will surely be afraid of him when she realises he has to kill her. This fantasy sequence reveals the strong probability that he will actually be incapable of killing her.

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We know how the girl feels from a combination of her external behaviour – she is often seen crying, she appears to be afraid – and the insights we gain from her writing in her note book; that Vlad goes from being “the horrible guy downstairs” to being “nice”. Subtle clues to a growing identification are also provided by the looks exchanged between the two characters. One of the first incidents involving the girl identifying with Vlad takes place early on in the film, when she takes Vlad’s mask and tries it on: in one gesture both taking on his personality – this is your mask, I am wearing it to identify with you – and also losing her own identity, which is of course what Vlad hoped to achieve by wearing the mask.

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There’s no real reason for her to do this and, in fact, it makes Vlad angry – he slaps her – but is he angry because she has seen him without the mask or because she is wearing the mask? We don’t know. Interestingly, once the girl has tried his mask on, Vlad goes upstairs and reads her school reports and notebooks – enabling him to get into her mind. Of course this is a mistake but Vlad does not realise this at the time.

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The film is about looking – so it’s appropriate that Vlad should imagine the girl at school with a telescope

Once we have seen the kidnap sequence, the story order is on the whole chronological until Vlad is given the order that when the time comes he will need to kill the girl. At this point there is a second black and white scene with the inspector in the present tense; but this is the inspector’s final appearance until the protagonists’ deaths when he reappears to signify the end of story.

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The kidnap sequence is interesting from an identification point of view. The kidnap is standard – they follow the girl home from school and execute the kidnap when the chauffeur gets out of the car to open the gates to the family’s mansion home. The incident is seen from two perspectives – an unrestricted external view, followed by the girl’s subjective point of view. This is not quite a point-of-view sequence because although we see her perspective of the chauffeur going to the gate and the car arriving, the shot then alternates to an objective one as we see the surprise on her face and then it briefly returns to her perspective before changing to the chauffeur’s point of view as the car races towards him. It then returns to her perspective as she looks on but when we see her running it is no longer from her perceptual visual space. As the chloroform starts to overcome her we see an approximation of her view – slowly becoming more and more blurry – but this is clearly from an external stand point. It’s obvious we are supposed to identify with the girl – but with the added advantage of seeing and knowing more than she does.

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Second view of the kidnapping – point of view shots:Falling Point 23Falling Point 24Objective shot:Falling Point 25Point of view shot:Falling Point 26Objective shot:Falling Point 27Chauffeur’s point of view shot:Falling Point 28Objective shots:Falling Point 29Falling Point 30

Shot from external stand point but representing the girl’s visual experience:

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Although we often see the characters looking through the hole in the door and experience their views of each other, we are reminded that we know more than both of these characters when the girl tries to escape by climbing out of the window. We see her legs dangling from the roof and we also see the man outside – she doesn’t know he is outside and he doesn’t know she is trying to escape.

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Vlad’s reactions to the girl’s escape attempts are of interest too. Instead of being angry on this occasion he just looks at her and she instinctively knows that she must go back to her room.

A later attempt at escape is seen as sport – when the girl runs past Vlad who is sitting in the car listening to the radio, he doesn’t even hurry to give chase. He does not appear to be annoyed at all and in fact smiles broadly before running after her. Again, when she falls she knows she must get up and go back to the cabin.

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Whilst the chase might not be the “romantic walk by the sea” that the boss suggests, Vlad certainly seemed to enjoy it.

I should say, too, that sound and music are of great importance in this film. Even when there is no music, the film is saturated with loud sounds of the sea and sea birds. The soundtrack is provided by Robert Hossein’s father, André Hossein, and is perfect for the film. Given that we bring to the film our knowledge that Johnny Hallyday is a musician, it’s not surprising that his character should be playing some music in the film – reinforcing a sense of identification with the character.

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The girl sees Vlad through the hole in the door as he plays his flute but this music – at this point, part of the film’s plot – later becomes part of the non-diegetic soundtrack, appearing within the film as a commentary. So when Vlad is told to stay downstairs whilst the boss and Eddy torture the girl to make a tape of her screaming, this piece of music reminds us: this is Vlad’s song, he played this when he was sitting alone before.

We know very little about the two main characters – all we know is that the girl is from a wealthy family and that Vlad is a criminal – not a first timer, we know he has worked with this gang before. On the surface they would seem to have little in common. And yet somehow there are parallels and reasons for them to identify with each other – they have both been thrown into this situation together and they are both locked away in the cabin and wanting to get out. They are both waiting. They also have a musical motif – a certain piece of non-diegetic music is played during key scenes with and about the two characters.

The first occurrence of this musical motif is when Vlad reads the girl’s school reports and imagines her at school. The second occurrence of the musical motif follows the incident with the beach party revellers – Vlad and the girl watch together from the door as a gang of people laugh and dance on the beach. There is a mirroring of body language as they both stand in the doorway together, watching, both imprisoned in the cabin against their wills – the girl as a hostage and Vlad as the one chosen by the gang to be exiled in this way.

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After the party people have gone, Vlad and the girl sit together at the table downstairs and this is when the musical motif appears. This is one of the most beautiful sequences for me in terms of identification and the way the two protagonists feel in each other’s company. Vlad eats an apple in silence and subtly pushes a sandwich towards the girl. They only look at each other when the other is looking away – there appears to be an embarrassment between the two of them. The girl hesitates for some time before crumbling off a tiny piece of the sandwich and playing with it before coyly putting the crumb in her mouth. Vlad watches her. The girl takes another tiny bit of the sandwich, fiddles with it and twists it between her fingers. She looks so sad at that moment and has tears in her eyes – she looks at Vlad and he looks away. She puts her head down on the table crying as Vlad looks at her, when she looks up he is still looking at her but again catching her gaze he looks away. She eventually runs up to her room in tears.

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Eddy and the boss had indicated that the method of creating a recording of the kidnapped person physically suffering is “tried and tested in America”. Although Vlad dissuaded the boss from continuing with the recording and using it, it does not stop the girl from using the tried and tested method on Vlad by repeatedly playing her own excruciatingly loud blood-curdling screams on the tape player. It works a treat. From the girl’s external behaviour it is obvious she is trying to get a reaction out of Vlad – she even looks at the hole to check if he is looking towards the room and smiles when she is playing it, until eventually he shouts to her that he’s had enough. The girl gets what she had wanted – a reaction and Vlad’s presence in the room.

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This is another sequence with the musical motif – a shared moment of identification: Vlad looks at the atlas; the girl looks at Vlad; Vlad looks at the girl; Vlad sits down looking at the book; Vlad looks at the girl; the musical motif kicks in; Vlad looks at the girl; the girl looks at Vlad; Vlad looks at the girl; the girl looks at Vlad; Vlad looks at the girl; the girls looks back and almost smiles. Vlad smiles to himself and says out loud: “Hey, I know that place!”; Vlad laughs and looks at the girl; the girl looks away but she is smiling. Vlad sees the girl smiling, stops reading and leaves the room. At the point he drops the atlas the music stops. The moment is over.

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It is at this point that he goes outside with the flute to play the same sad song that indicates his loneliness there. It’s befitting that at this point he receives the message informing him that he has one hour to kill the girl as the boss and Eddy are coming to collect him with his share of the ransom. As Vlad takes the shovel to dig a hole for the girl’s body Vlad’s theme plays non-diegetically.

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Vlad’s identification with the girl proves to be his downfall. So strongly does he identify with her that he even dictates a letter to her written by him on her behalf in first person; instead of saying to the girl, “”Write that you are okay and that you’ll be freed when the ransom’s paid,” he gives her his pen to write with and says: “My dear daddy, I’m alright. They didn’t hurt me…” etc

The girl’s belief that Vlad is not like “the other two”, that he is different and not totally aligned to their way of working – nice, even – is validated at this point. So strong is the girl’s belief that Vlad will not kill her, even when she knows the time has come, she follows Vlad outside to the beach and heads towards the hole. They even share another moment of mirroring of body language as they both look up to the sky at the same moment , their gazes following the same course until they share a look. As she pushes some of the sand into the hole with her foot, Vlad raises the gun as if to shoot but she turns and without even flinching or showing any fear she almost smiles and declares: “I’m hungry!” At this point the musical motif recommences and Vlad puts the gun away, the girl smiles and walks towards him.

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What follows does not appear to make any sense – time is running out for Vlad and the girl but there she stands eating a sandwich and smiling: the last meal. It is perhaps their innocence that allows them to share these final moments – Vlad getting sprayed with beer when he opens a can and them both laughing about this – as the boss’s car pulls up.

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Vlad is indeed incapable of killing her but also unable to allow the boss and Eddy to kill her; this throws them together further in the conflict as he now puts his own neck on the line. With this development Vlad aligns himself with the girl and this seals his fate – the gang want the girl dead and they also want Vlad dead too.

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The final sequence of their story is heart-breakingly sad – Vlad repeatedly tells the girl to go away before telling the boss and Eddy: “I’m sorry. I didn’t want things to be like this. It’s not my fault, you left me alone with her too long.”

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At 69 minutes into the film the boss finally removes his dark glasses – to shoot Vlad – and although it’s not much of a disguise it’s the first time we have seen his eyes and his full identity

Although the girl has a head start she stops when she hears an altercation between Vlad and Eddy and again when she hears the boss shoot Vlad in the back

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The musical motif recommences for this final part of the film where the girl starts running towards Vlad, despite the fact that she too is putting herself in the firing line, and it signals the end for her. The boss shoots the girl and flees the scene.

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At this point the musical motif stops. Then moments later it recommences as Vlad and the girl, dying, look at each other and try to reach each other by dragging themselves along in the sand. They just reach each other and the girl suddenly drops dead.  The music stops at this point.

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There is no real sense of finality in terms of the investigation – will the inspector find out what we know? Will he find the boss and Eddy? What are the final consequences? But it doesn’t matter now as the two characters we identify with – the ones we spent time alone with – are now dead.

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Robert Dalban, who had previously been in H-G Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques, which also featured a very young Johnny Hallyday

I doubt very much that Marlon Brando in The Night of the Following Day would have moved me as much as Johnny Hallyday did in this film. He was excellent. It surely must be the best thing he has ever done. And Pascale Rivault – what a great actress she was and so beautiful too.

If you’ve not already seen Point de chute I have no doubt totally ruined it for you by telling you everything about it – sowwy! (although you were warned with the spoiler notice…) – but I would say see it for yourself anyway. I’ve seen it 3 times now and it gets the same reaction from me every time – I have to have the hankies at the ready!

I hope this article hasn’t been too much “all over the place” – there is so much to say about Point de chute but it’s quite hard to rein in your enthusiasm. Excuse me if it’s a bit free-form in places.

Other things I should tell you about the film:

  • Point de chute means stopping-off point or falling point – a very appropriate name for the film
  • Filming took place over 6 weeks at a beach near Royan in the south-west of France
  • The kidnap sequence took place at the Château de la Roche Courbon (also in the south-west of France)

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Serge Gainsbourg in Le pacha

Anyone who knows me well knows that Serge Gainsbourg is my absolute hero.  I love his music but it’s not just that for me – I also love his writing, his films, his acting, his photographs; everything.  As his music is often written about but his career as an actor and director is largely overlooked I have decided to concentrate (for now) primarily on his films.

First up is Georges Lautner’s film Le pacha (1968) in which Serge appeared briefly in person playing himself and also appeared more extensively on the soundtrack; if you want to hear Requiem pour un con on a loop, get yourself a copy of this film – it’s worth it just to hear this repetitive music which was so fabulously ahead of its time.

As a bit of background, in 1966 Serge Gainsbourg made an appearance in Jean-Paul Le Chanois’ Le jardinier d’Argenteuil alongside Jean Gabin, who was starring and co-producing.  “As far as Gabin was concerned, the booze ups we were able to have together was unbelievable!  He warmed to me immediately.  During filming we laughed ourselves silly… As he was co-producer on the film, he asked me to do the music.  He invited me to his place, near Bois in Neuilly.  “Let’s go up to my daughter’s room,” he said to me, “there’s a piano.”  I play him a few snatches and he says to me: “Well, sonny, I find that absolutely charming!”

I’ve not got or seen Le jardinier d’Argenteuil yet but I have got Le pacha which they collaborated on again one year later.  “I made an appearance in Le pacha, as Gainsbourg, in a recording studio; I sing Requiem[…] whilst Gabin passes in front of me and we exchange a long look of total incomprehension.”  Yes, that about sums it up!

There is a slight problem with Le pacha if you’re English though; it doesn’t seem to be available with subtitles.  Now, although I just translated the texts above, my French is not brilliant – I get by and I try my best – and I do experience problems when trying to understand people like Gabin who has a low vocal register, appears to mumble, and in this film uses a lot of slang.  The perfect solution for me was the French subtitles for the hard of hearing, which meant I could get more out of the film than if it had been totally without titles.  Hopefully one day it’ll appear with English subs but until then I’ll have to make do.

The film is available on Gaumont DVD and if you’re lucky you’ll find the two disc edition, which has loads of extras worth a look including commentaries, making-of documentaries, photo and poster galleries, and the entire supporting programme that was shown before the film during screenings in 1968.

If you watch the film expecting to see a lot of Serge you’d be disappointed, but there are other reasons to watch it – and not just for the soundtrack either.  For one there is the lovely Dany Carrel (who I know chiefly from her appearances in Henri-Georges Clouzot’s L’Enfer and La prisonnière):

Secondly, there are some incredibly stylish sequences and cinematography, which somehow manage not to look out of place in what is essentially a very gritty crime film:

Even the criminals’ hideout has great imagery:

Yet another nod to Gainsbourg and Bardot’s Harley Davidson

And Joss has a pretty stylish office for a police commissionner as well

And there’s the story itself – whilst it’s never going to be considered a “quality” film, it’s got mystery, it’s got several explosions and loads of shootings going on; if you like that kind of thing, then you’ll love Le pacha.

Here’s my summary of the film, *SPOILER WARNING*:

The film starts with the funeral of Inspector Albert Gouvion (Robert Dalban), who was found dead in his apartment.  It is initially suspected that he had committed suicide after a police case he worked on went terribly wrong, but this appears not to be the case.  His friend and colleague, Commissioner Joss (Gabin), is carrying out investigations to find out what happened to his friend, who he affectionately refers to as a “con” (an idiot, but actually a bit stronger than that maybe even the c word, but if we want to be more polite then possibly asshole).

Whilst Gouvion may have been a war hero and a (seemingly) respected police officer, it seems that he had a few secrets that even his friend Joss did not know about.  His story begins when he is sent out on a job involving the transport of several cases of priceless and irreplaceable jewels from Boucheron, which are being sent over to Amsterdam.  While transporting the jewels towards the Belgian border, the fleet of vehicles comes under attack from a gang of criminals led by a character called Marcel Lurat, nicknamed Quinquin (André Pousse).  The gang crash a car into the police motorbikes, killing two policemen; shoot at the undercover police car with a bazooka; make the car and the lorry containing the jewels crash; they pull the lorry containing the jewels into the back of their own lorry and drive off leaving the wreckage behind them.

A controlled explosion of the lorry enables them to retrieve the cases of jewels, which they exchange for a case of money from a smartly dressed man called Brunet (Maurice Garrel).  The police are aware of only a few criminals in a position to handle such hot goods; Brunet is on their radar.

Back at the police station, Joss questions Gouvion (who survived the crash) as to what happened; Joss’ manner is very brusque, even with someone he calls a friend, and he gives the impression that he blames Gouvion for the incident and that he thought he wasn’t up to the job.  Gouvion leaves the station upset and is next seen dead on his apartment floor from a bullet wound, with a gun in his hand.  Joss does not feel any responsibility for this at all: “You don’t commit suicide after a slanging match!”  He refuses to believe that it’s a case of suicide.

Joss starts investigating with his colleague Marc (Jean Gaven).

Meanwhile, Quinquin is regrouping with his fellow gang members to share out the loot – or is he?  He goes to see two members who are hiding out, as they look at the suitcase of cash Quinquin sneaks up and shoots them both.  Not content with offing two of his gang members, he heads off to meet another one who is at home watching TV with his wife; Quinquin shoots them both.

He next heads off to meet Léon de Lyon (Henri Déus), who is waiting in his car in the woods.

In a nod towards Serge Gainsbourg, Léon listens to Bardot singing Harley Davidson on the radio in his car.  Quinquin approaches with a suitcase of cash and hands it over to Léon through his car window.  For a moment it looks like he is going to share the loot with Léon, but Quinquin’s not that kind; he gets his gun and shoots the unsuspecting Léon through his car door.  As Quinquin shoots, Bardot sings:  “Et si je meurs demain, c’est que tel etait mon destin…” – it means something like: And if I die tomorrow, it’s because this was my destiny.  Cheeky!

Quinquin pauses only to take the case of cash back and to push Léon’s car into the pond and watch it sink; then he’s off again.  Que m’importe de mourir, les cheveux dans le vent!

It’s after the death of Léon that Gouvion is found dead.  The police suspect Quinquin, but he has got himself an alibi from a bar owner who says he was playing poker in his bar on the night of the murder.  Joss shows he doesn’t care about following procedure as far as this case is concerned when he kicks all the clients out of the bar, interrogates the bar owner at gun point and smacks him in the face.  In the meantime, Quinquin’s accomplices are being found dead left, right and centre.

When Joss discovers that Gouvion had a girlfriend called Nathalie (Dany Carrel) who works at a club called Les Hippies, he heads off there to find out if she has any information for him.  Dany is a hostess at the bar, very attractive and far too young for Gouvion; Joss sees her across the room talking to Brunet.  When Brunet leaves the club, Joss speaks with him and then he heads over to Nathalie to question her.  As they leave the club together, Brunet watches from his car.  It certainly appears that Nathalie may be involved with the criminals, but everything is not always as it seems.  And this is what Joss finds as he is investigating the Gouvion case; did he really know his friend after all?  He didn’t even know that Gouvion had a girlfriend until one of his colleagues mentioned it.

Nathalie says that she and Gouvion used to see each other, but he became jealous over time thinking that she was seeing other men; he demanded that they live together, although she wasn’t sure that they would have enough money to live on.  From her clothes and her apartment you can tell she is used to luxury and a police inspector’s salary probably wouldn’t stretch to that.  Nathalie says that Brunet is a regular visitor to the club and that’s all.  She seems to have little else to tell Joss; it’s not a lot for him to go on.

Next stop for Joss is a recording studio where Emile Vergnes (André Weber), another suspected accomplice, is working with Serge Gainsbourg as guitarist on a track called Requiem pour un con.

Joss has received intelligence that suggests that Vergnes is going to be robbing a mail train but Vergnes says he’s just playing guitar these days.  Vergnes does, however, have some information that is useful to Joss – it turns out that Nathalie is the sister of Léon de Lyon; funny she didn’t mention that before… so Joss goes to see her again.

Nathalie swears that Léon didn’t ask anything of Gouvion and she says she doesn’t even know where her brother is – Joss tells her, rather cold-heartedly, that he’s in the morgue.  The police have been keeping it quiet about Léon’s death; they know Quinquin did it but they need their evidence.  Joss asks Nathalie if she would set up Quinquin, meet with him and propose a multi-million foreign currency job; knowing that Quinquin is greedy, it’s an offer he probably wouldn’t refuse.  Nathalie has to meet this man who killed her brother and act as if she knows nothing about it; she meets him in a groovy clothes store and discusses the job with him as the cops are watching on surveillance camera.  At first Quinquin acts disinterested but the amount of money on offer soon changes his mind.

The job is set up for the 19th of the month and Joss gives the details to Nathalie who calls Quinquin with all the information he will need; he says he needs to see her and although this was not part of the plan and she should inform Joss about the meeting, Nathalie heads off on her own with just a handgun for protection.  The meeting goes ahead but when Quinquin offers her a drink Nathalie reaches for her gun in her handbag; maybe she wants revenge for her brother’s death in the same way that Joss wants revenge for Gouvion’s death.  Whatever her reason, she’s too late because Quinquin has already shot her.  He does, however, have every intention of taking the job forward – just without Nathalie.

The job goes ahead as planned.  Joss gets ten men to work with him on the case; they are disguised as postmen taking delivery of the foreign currency (millions of francs worth, just in bags in the back of a train, as you do).  The gang of criminals including Vergnes, all dressed as postmen, get on the train and knock out the “postmen”, taking charge of the currency delivery.  When the train arrives at Troyes, they get off and tell the staff there that they are leaving the train early because they suspect an attack; they will now transport the currency by road to avoid being hijacked.  As they leave the station with the currency, they are suddenly chased by the station master – for a moment they think they have been rumbled but he has just realised that he will need to open the gates for them.

They look to have got away with it, but we know that Quinquin is sure to be lying in wait for them somewhere – he wouldn’t want to let such a large sum of money go to another gang.  But what I don’t understand is how Quinquin managed to get a gang together to work with him after the rather suspicious deaths of his other accomplices who worked with him on his last job.  That bit I’m just not sure about.  Anyway, lo and behold, the gang are hijacked by Quinquin and his men as anticipated.  Poor old Vergnes should have stuck to being a guitarist after all, because Quinquin wastes no time in wasting him.

But Quinquin may have been too hasty after all – as he waits in the disused factory where the meeting with Brunet and the handover is to take place, he finds Brunet is handcuffed.  In his confusion or perhaps figuring he’s not shot enough people yet, he shoots Brunet.  Inspector Joss, watching from the sidelines, hesitates and then shoots Quinquin, telling him to drop his gun or he’ll shoot again.  In the meantime there is a massive gun fight outside between Quinquin’s men and the police; it’s an absolute bloodbath, bodies strewn everywhere.

As Joss approaches the trigger happy but injured Quinquin, he tells him “Bullets are easier to give than receive, I’m sure you hadn’t thought about that?”  Quinquin wants to know why Joss shot him – it’s true that there was a hesitation before he shot and it was not exactly in self-defence.  Quinquin tells him what we already know: “On behalf of Albert Gouvion, my friend, the Emperor of Idiots.”

What a great little crime film and a must for any fan of Gainsbourg.

Other Information:

Serge Gainsbourg recorded Requiem pour un con for the soundtrack for Le pacha on 8 September 1967.  Around about 15 October 1967, Jean Gabin told Gainsbourg that he’d like him to make an appearance in the film.  Le pacha was premiered in Paris on 14 March 1968.

Look out for Georges Lautner (bottom row left) and Michel Audiard (I think he’s top row right) in the photofits:

Sources of information:  (i) Gainsbourg, Gilles Verlant, Éditions Albin Michel, 1992; (ii) Gainsbourg Et Caetera, Gilles Verlant / Isabelle Salmon, Éditions Vade Retro, Paris, 1994.  The (bad) translations are, as ever, my own.