Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Max et les ferailleurs, Claude Sautet, France 1971

Yes, I admit, I love Romy Schneider even in the worst of films. However, this isn't one of them, as I decided last night upon watching the film again for the first time in, I think, thirty years. Shot in 1971, it was one of Romy Schneider's first films during her second French period, which was rung in by her first collaboration with Claude Sautet, Les choses de la vie (France/ Italy/ Switzerland 1970).

Max et les ferailleurs is a detective story - or more adequately put, it is a character study in the guise of a detective story. Set in Nanterre on the outskirts of Paris, Michel Piccoli - playing the detective - uses Romy Schneider - who plays a prostitute, as so many actresses with an accent do and did (see Marlene Dietrich) - but by doing so falls in love with her without realising it. Or to be more precise, without being willing to admit it to himself. The relationship between Schneider's Lily and Piccoli's Pierre calls to mind Alan J. Pakula's film Klute (USA 1971), in which not only the roles of Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland resemble those of Sautet's film, but also their - dysfunctional - relationship with each other. Curiously enough, Klute was shot the same year as Max et les ferailleurs, which means scrap dealer, alluding to both the profession of Lily's boyfriend as well as the human scrap - or remains - that Max is dealing with, including his own.

Schneider and Piccoli in Max et les ferailleurs

Piccoli plays the cold, cynical loner-cum-detective (or should it be: detective-cum-loner?) who hides behind a facade of professionalism, never giving anything away about his inner world or feelings. If it wasn't for the expression in his eyes, which speaks volumes about his vulnerability, his frustrations and his past disappointments, he'd be on a par with Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe. He uses Lily, and by gaining her confidence, he lures her boyfriend into a trap, thus turning him into a person far worse than he actually is, simply because Piccoli's opinion of people is so negative, that without realising it, his pessimistic world view becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, resulting in the inevitable, tragic ending.

Max et les ferailleurs is available on DVD.