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L’Adversaire

Actress-turned-director Nicole Garcia, whose last film was the dark thriller Place Vend’me, turns her attentions to a real crime case that rocked France in 1993. Jean-Claude Romand was a mythomaniac who lived on assumed identities and hoaxes. For 18 years he lied to his family and friends, who thought that he worked as a researcher for the World Health Organisation in Geneva. Just when his double life was about to be revealed, he murdered his wife, children and parents rather than admit to the truth.
This case also provided the inspiration for Laurent Cantet’s Time Out (L’Emploi du temps), but Garcia’s film takes a very different approach and sticks much closer to the facts. Its trump card is Daniel Auteuil’s frighteningly contained performance, which portrays Jean-Marc (the fictionalised Romand) as a shy character who is willing to subject himself to unbearable stress is order to maintain a façade of respectability. Auteuil is totally convincing as a man who has made his own bed and must face the terrible consequences.
Unlike Cantet, who emphasised the social and political aspects of the case, Garcia concentrates on her protagonist’s interior struggle. Avoiding easy explanations to the point of being slightly oblique, she appears to view Jean-Marc as a case of normality gone bizarrely, tragically awry. Her film is pregnant with unease, a mood that’s greatly enhanced by Angelo Badalamenti’s fine score and Jean-Marc Faber’s cool, needle-sharp cinematography.
France-Switzerland-Spain, 2002. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 120 mins.

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