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Clockmaker of St. Paul, The
Directed by Bertrand Tavernier, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost based on Georges Simenon's novel 'L'Horloger d'Everton,' 1974's The Clockmaker Of St. Paul (L'horloger de Saint-Paul in its native France) opens with a striking scene where a young girl riding a train sees out her window what's left of a burning car.
From here, we meet a middle-aged watchmaker named Michel Descombes (Philippe Noiret) who lives a quiet life in Lyon, France. He's a news junkie interested in politics nad current events and the very model of a law abiding citizen. Michel's world gets rocked when he finds out that his son, Bernard (Sylvain Rougerie), has been accused of killing a man at the factory where his girlfriend worked and is now on the run, a wanted man. He leaves work, keeping his cool throughout his commute, but is soon asked for help by Commissaire Guildoud (Jean Rochefort). He agrees to help with the case, and becomes quite shocked as he goes about doing this when it dawns on him that he didn't really know his son as well as he thought he did.
From here, over the course of the days that it takes to work the case, Descbomes and Guildoud's relationship turns into an interesting friendship. It never becomes too persona, the mutual repsect for privacy is there, but they meet for dinner and begin to enjoy one another's company. Through this relationship, Guildoud is able to better understand why Bernard committed the murder. At the same time, Michel comes to better understand Bernard's motivations and, in a strange way, develops a new respect for his son.
The Clockmaker Of St. Paul features some great one sheet art with Michel's image over top of the burning car that opens with the film, with the hands of a clock over his face, indicating that something explosive is happening and that time is running out for our likeable lead. In a way, that's true but don't go into this movie expecting a standard thriller or a movie with a lot of action in it, because that isn't the direction that Bertrand Tavernier takes with this film. Instead, this is a far more character driven piece than you might expect, the emphasis here is on Michel's existing relationship with his son and how that evolves over the course of events that take place in the movie, and on his burgeoning relationship with Guildoud that develops as they work together to extrapolate the details of what exactly caused Bernard to do what he did. This makes for an atypical crime film to be sure, but a very effective and involving one nevertheless.
None of this would work if the performances were subpar, and thankfully that's very much not the case here. Jean Rochefort was excellent in everything he did and this film is no exception. He's just likeable as the cop working the case, understanding and willing to listen while still very much completely dedicated to doing his job and seeing that the law is enforced, even if justice isn't completely served in this case. He and Philippe Noiret are great together. Noiret is really just as good as Rochefort in the film. His Michel is a quiet mad. We learn that he and his wife separated and that after that happened she passed away. He's a slightly tragic character for this reason, but not exactly a total sad sack. He plays the part to perfection. Sylvain Rougerie is very good in his supporting turn as the son/murdered in the story.
Bertrand Tavernier's direction is controlled, handling the deliberate pacing of the film extremely well. Pierre-William Glenn's cinematography is excellent, there are some very striking shots used here to emphasize certain key moments in the film. Composer Philippe Sarde delivers an appropriately moving score that further accentuates the drama and suspense and helps with the flow of the film as well. Great production values all around on this one.
The Clockmaker Of St. Paul arrives on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer provided by Studio Canal framed at 1.66.1 widescreen taking up just over 24GBs of space on the 50GB disc. Colors look a little bit flat here but overall, the presentation is pretty nice. There's some pretty strong detail that you'll notice throughout the movie, good depth and texture as well. There aren't any problems with noise reduction or edge enhancement and compression artifacts are never a problem. There isn't much here in the way of print damage either, just some small white specks now and then. Overall, if this isn't reference quality it's still a very strong picture.
The only audio option on the disc is a 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track in French with optional subtitles provided in English. This is a fairly dialogue driven film but the track handles everything well, giving things some punch when the movie calls for it and doing a very nice job with the score. No problems with any hiss or distortion and the levels are balanced nicely. The subtitles are clean, clear, easy to read and free of any noticeable typos.
An audio commentary by director Bertrand Tavernier starts off the supplemental package on the disc. He speaks here in English about using his daughter in the opening scene, why he starts the movie with the car burning, casting the movie and why he chose the actors that he chose for the movie, different treatments that were created for the film, why he moved the action from America to France and how that allowed him to include personal details by doing so, using Georges Simenon's novel as a source for the screenplay that he co-wrote, how important the work of DP Pierre-William Glenn is to the movie, why certain shots are framed the way that they are, what the city of Lyon brings to the movie, the physical qualities of some of the performances, why he chose not to use stuntmen for most of the action sequences in the film, why he trimmed a lot of the lines in certain scenes, the film's finale and lots more.
From there, check out the forty-two minute Interview with Tavernier and Philippe Noiret from 2001, in French with English subtitles. These piece covers how each man came to be involved in the film, working with (and finding) the film's producers, thoughts on the script, adapting the source novel to work as a screenplay, the influence of 40's and 50's films on the picture, working with the two other screenwriters brought on for the film (Pierre Bost and Jean Aurenche), casting the movie, how Tavernier worked through issues with his father during this period, thoughts on the performances in the movie and how they reflect the characters as written, the use of color in the film and the locations used and more. A second interview with Tavernier solo, recorded in 2008 and running forty-eight minutes, is also included. He talks here, in English, about needing to learn about life as he decided to get into filmmaking as a full-time career, moving from working as a press agent to a filmmaker himself, attempts to get a film made about the French Gestapo, some of his early screenplays, getting along with some of his fellow directors in French cinema of this era, how it was important to work with people who were of a different age than himself, Pierre Bost's passing, politics in his writing, thoughts on some of the key scenes in the movie and quite a bit more.
Rounding out the extras on the disc is a quick two minute introduction to the film by filmmaker Walter Hill, a trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection options.,/p>
Packaged inside the keepcase alongside the disc is an eighteen-page full color booklet with excerpts from Tavernier's memoir that cover the making of the film as well as some nice stills from the movie and credits for the cast and crew.
The Clockmaker Of St. Paul isn't a typical crime film, it's more of a character study, but it's a really well-made film that features some fantastic direction and very impressive performances. Kino's Blu-ray of this underappreciated gem of a film looks very nice, sounds great and features some nice extra features as well. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.