Cinema of France – Garde a vue (1981)

Garde a vue is the film that gave director Claude Miller’s career a major and much-needed boost when he was going through a rough phase after his second film met with a disastrous fate at the box office. He had almost made up his mind to not make another film and that’s when he was persuaded by producer Georges Dancigers to direct a French adaptation of a British novel called Brainwash, a psychological thriller. The film turned out to be a huge hit, much to Miller’s surprise. My favorite French actor Lino Ventura plays Gallien, a police Inspector who has been recently assigned to a ghastly case involving the rape and murder of two small girls. The primary suspect is a well-known and distinguished lawyer named Martinaud (Michel Serrault) and is brought in for questioning. Gallien and his assistant are hundred percent sure that this is their man and they subject him to a rigorous grilling session that goes on for hours. But is he really their man? Will Martinaud be able to convince Gallien that he is not the actual murderer? Things take a turn for the worse when Martinaud’s estranged wife shows up and reveals a shocking secret from their past.

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The English translation of the film’s title is “The Grilling” and it is an apt one as it is one long interrogation from start to finish. On the surface, the plot may sound simple but this is a dark and riveting psychological thriller that keeps us hooked for the entire length of it’s runtime. It’s a well-crafted and complex study of deceit and delusion. The film is confined to one setting and Miller directs it with clinical precision. We observe the two characters indulged in their mind games with each man trying to outwit the other. And this makes for a very unpredictable and engaging narrative. Is Gallien trying to arrest Martinaud because of his own insecurity and career failings or is Martinaud trying to take advantage of Gallien’s weaknesses? Romy Schneider plays Martinaud’s wife and manages to put in a solid performance despite her short screen-time. The film ends with a shocking and haunting plot twist that will get some talking long after it has ended. Serrault won the Cesar Award for his performance and the film won in three other categories: Screenplay, Editing and Supporting Actor for Guy Marchand. It was remade in Hollywood as Under Suspicion starring Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman. Ignore the American version and instead watch this.

 

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