December 09, 2015
Deux hommes dans la ville (1973) is such a heartbreaking indictment on the death penalty, and while the guillotine is now a relic of the past in France, it is incredibly painful to watch this as an American, where state sanctioned executions are still carried out on a regular basis.
Aside from the political aspect, it was just brilliantly acted. Jean Gabin somehow shows so much emotion without ever seeming to actually change his expression. And I'm pretty sure that Alain Delon is second only to Omar Sharif as the best eye-actor who ever lived. There is one scene towards the end where Jean Gabin and Alain Delon meet and say nothing-- Alain Delon's eyes slowly well up with tears and Gabin looks helpless. It was so powerful I actually ached for both of them.
On my second viewing I decided to watch with the commentary turned on (from the Cohen Film Collection DVD) It's absolutely fascinating, and there's a really interesting moral question at the end about whether a filmmaker's personal life should affect how we feel about their art, which is something I've given a lot of thought to in the past. The writer/director Jose Giovanni was apparently a pretty horrible guy (I learned about his background from this commentary but it's on Wikipedia if you're curious. It's pretty bad stuff, so don't read it if you're afraid it'll spoil his movies for you) but this movie is fantastic. And the anti-capital punishment, pro-prison reform message is powerful and intense and (strange, perhaps, coming from someone with such questionable scruples) morally just.
It's such a tough call but in general I often wonder why we hold modern artists to a much higher moral standard than we ever did in the past. I don't know if it's due to the rapid dissemination of information, that information is more readily available, or the fact that our collective opinion has shifted on whether artists must be stand-up citizens in order for their art to be appreciated. The painter Caravaggio was a violent man who was convicted of murder, but the passage of time has forgiven his personal crimes because of the beautiful art he created.
I'm completely undecided on where I stand on this, mostly because I enjoy so many films made by people who don't seem too awesome in real life. I mean, Gary Cooper was a friendly witness. I'm basically in love with Alain Delon but his politics make me cringe. And could I really live my life without ever watching another Roman Polanski movie?
I guess I don't have to decide this right now. But this movie stuck in my gut for days after I watched it and now I think the commentary is going to have the same effect.