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A loose adaptation of George Simenon's novel Monsieur Hire is a film with rich overtones. The focus of attention here is a bald mid-age man (Michel Blanc) whose voyeuristic obsession with a younger woman (Sandrine Bonnaire) spurs a strange vortex of events.
Patrice Leconte isn't a director one could easily forget. His films tend to reveal emotions and feelings many of his colleagues are incapable of recreating on the big screen. In Monsieur Hire an impeccable looking man with regular trips to the local bordello is paired with a beautiful young woman whose desire to understand the man's world gives birth to an unusual relationship. The man takes pleasure in observing the woman, the woman takes pleasure in being observed.
The flow of the "relationship" is altered when the woman walks into the man's apartment. He is surprised, tense, and unwilling to converse. She is assertive. Yet, words are hardly spoken. She leaves.
Then everything goes back to normal. Until the body of a dead woman is discovered and the man is questioned by the police.
Monsieur Hire is not one of Leconte's visually striking works. On the contrary it is subdued and quiet. What drives the story here are the emotions and feelings the main protagonists struggle with, their awkward communication.
Silence plays a major role in Monsieur Hire. There are large chunks of [i]time[/i] where Leconte indulges on examining the body movement and facial expressions of the two protagonists. Blanc's character for example looks more natural when seen alone than when he comes into contact with other human beings. He is a loner but only in the eyes of those who do not understand his world.
On the opposite side the woman is equally deceiving. She is happy, talkative, and just about everything the man isn't. It would be ludicrous to think that the man might interest the woman. Yet, the two form an unusual bond.
Monsieur Hire is the perfect example why French cinema will always remain an unsolvable enigma for Hollywood. This is a character-driven piece whose emphasis on detail is without a doubt astonishing. Everything here is done with so much finesse that even the most predictable cliché comes off as an impressive act, a memorable exposure to grand filmmaking. Last but not least the multiple layers of provocative analogies - morality versus pleasure, society versus individual - are far more intriguing to analyze than the actual crime.
How Does the DVD Look?
A quick look at the transfer KINO have provided confirmed what I initially suspected. The R1 distribs have used exactly the same print found on the UK edition of Monsieur Hire which to be honest is more than acceptable. The issue here is that the transfer has not undergone the needed adjustments: this is a direct PAL-NTSC port which suffers from some mild but obvious "ghosting", watered-down color scheme, dull contrast, and occasionally "combing". Furthermore, pic's naturally softened look becomes that much more delicate during some of the night scenes where the effects from the improper conversion become quite distracting. On the positive side of things this is mostly a clean and healthy looking print which some viewers might be able to stomach. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and has been enhanced for widescreen TVs.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with the original French DD 2.0 track the film sounds quite well: dialog is very easy to follow, there aren't any audio dropouts, and I could not detect any serious deficiencies to report. The English translation is quite well done and the English subtitles are indeed optional.
In addition to the original theatrical trailer and a gallery of stills you will find a somewhat interesting interview with Patrice Leconte where he recalls a few interesting facts from the history of this film. As a whole this piece is hardly as revealing as one might hope yet its inclusion is certainly commendable given the fact it does not appear on the UK version.
There are plenty of reviewers who have long ago given up on KINO. I am not one of them. I like the company's output though I continue to be puzzled by their lack of desire to address the transfer issue. This being said, Monsieur Hire offers an exact replica of the UK print which is of passable quality. I would certainly recommend that you seek this disc if you are not yet region-free.