Voici le temps des assassins (Julien Duvivier, 1956)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Voici le temps des assassins.

criterion logoJulien Duvivier’s darkest study of moral depravity, Voici le temps des assassins is a harrowing drama of a successful and good-hearted Parisian restaurateur, André Chatelin (Jean Gabin), who takes in and marries the young, angel-faced daughter of his deceased ex-wife.  All too late, he discovers that this orphan, Catherine (Danièle Delorme), has vengeful plans of her own.  The film marks Gabin’s definitive screen gentrification, as its star was now in his fifties and en route to playing confident middle-class patriarchs and gentlemen gangsters, and contains a chilling performance by Delorme as an ice-cold femme fatale.  Also known as Deadlier Than the Male, Voici le temps des assassins was a critical and commercial success for Duvivier, representing the dramatic nuance and scrupulous subtlety that inspired Jean Renoir to proclaim, “If I were an architect and I had to build a monument to cinema, I would place a statue of Duvivier above the entrance … This great technician, this rigorist, was a poet.”

Disc Features:

  • New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Audio commentary by film scholar Michael Atkinson
  • Interview with film historian and translator Lenny Borger
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • PLUS:  A booklet featuring Bosley Crowther’s New York Times review, Cahiers du Cinéma‘s review, and Jean Renoir’s 1967 obituary tribute, “Death of a Professional”

Catherine Andre GerardAndré Chatelin (Jean Gabin) is a successful Parisian chef.  His restaurant, located in Les Halles, is a sought after dining spot that serves locals as well as heads of state and captains of industry.  His firm but fair hand leaves him beloved by his staff and he dotes on a university student, Gérard (Gérard Blain), whom he regards as if he were his own son.  This comfortably steady life is upended when a young woman from Marseille enters his life.  Catherine (Danièle Delorme), the daughter of André’s ex-wife, advises her mother is dead.  Without resources or contacts in Paris, generous André takes in Catherine, letting her stay in his flat and work in his restaurant, yet Catherine remains mysterious about her background and her intentions, arousing the suspicions of those around André.  While Catherine skims money from the restaurant and sows discord between André and his peers, particularly between him and Gérard, the chef becomes more defensive of his decision to take her in and eventually marries her, seduced by her sweet, reticent demeanour and by the familiar attraction he felt previously for her mother.  Catherine’s machinations prove far more sinister than any can expect and deception eventually gives way to outright murder.  The full film has been taken down from YouTube, but Catherine’s schemes can be observed in this scene of her wedding dinner and a complicated visit by Gérard.

Julien Duvivier is already represented in the Criterion Collection, his universally hailed masterpiece of poetic realism, Pepe le Moko (1937), holds spine number 172. However, the director’s remaining filmography has been largely dismissed in the passage of time.  Despite acclaim by old guard masters like Jean Renoir, Marcel Carné, Ingmar Bergman, Graham Greene, and Orson Welles, Duvivier’s profile has been reduced to that of a journeyman technician.  He became a figure of French cinema that the New Wave specifically railed against.  His dalliance in Hollywood during the first half of the 1940s and a strained return to France certainly harmed his profile in the years that followed.  Yet, reconsideration of Duvivier’s work as a whole has finally begun.  A 2009 retrospective on his career at the Museum of Modern Art was the first serious American consideration of his eloquent, understated, and nuanced filmography.  Descriptions of Duvivier as a technician have long been demeaning, but Renoir’s description was meant entirely with reverence and never precluded Duvivier’s status as an artist.  His cinematic acumen is on full display in Voici le temps des assassins (thanks in large part to Robert Gys’s astounding art direction), as in this clip at André’s mother’s establishment outside of Paris.

(Oops, another dead link!)

Gabin starred in 6 Duvivier films.  So immense was Gabin’s celebrity and so diminished was the regard for Duvivier that Jacques Rivette suggested that the actor could be considered more the director than Duvivier.  This seems unduly harsh, as Duvivier’s long career existed in part because of the director’s ability to get on with studios, staff, and performers, something that hardly can be considered a flaw on his abilities.  For his part, Gabin is wonderful, carrying the confidence and authority of an older man without the puffiness and frailty that would meet him later.  Delorme may be even better, with moments of grim cruelty, true malevolence, and cracking guilt.  Her best moment comes near the film’s end where a terrible act inspires glee and disgust at the same time, although those clicking on this clip should be warned that it presents the final 8 minutes of the movie and contains some major spoilers.

Jacques Tardi StreetDudley Andrew claims that “[n]o one speaks of Julien Duvivier without apologizing.”  That may largely be true, but it’s starting to shift and rightly so, at least given Voici le temps des assassins.  One might ask, why start here?  There surely are other deserving Duvivier films, but this one is an elegant, beautifully constructed thriller and that is reason enough alone.  French comic artist Jacques Tardi would be a perfect complement to the film.  His highly detailed urban environments would do real justice to Robert Gys’s studio reconstructed market in Les Halles and his ligne claire style ensures a distinctly European aesthetic.

Credits:  I’ve used the film’s French title to avoid confusion with Ralph Thomas’ 1967 Bulldog Drummond film of the same name (plus, the French title just sounds a lot better).  The back cover summary is generally based on Lenny Borger’s synopsis for the MoMA’s 2009 retrospective.  For this reason, Borger, a curator for the event, is tapped to give an interview on the film, on Duvivier’s career, and on his extensive reputation amongst other filmmakers and screenwriters.  Michael Atkinson is a previous Criterion contributor and his reappraisal of Julien Duvivier for Moving Image Source, “Time Regained: Remembering Julien Duvivier, a casualty of auterism”, suggests he could be a strong advocate for Voici le temps des assassins and the lost appreciation of its director.  I’ve only seen excerpts of the Crowther and Cahiers du Cinéma reviews, but they seem quite laudatory and well-written.  Jean Renoir’s tribute to Duvivier is almost always quoted in any article or biographical document on Duvivier and so it makes sense to present it in its complete form.

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