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The Judge And The Assassin (Le Juge Et L'Assassin)  [DVD]
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A 19th century judge must decide whether a child murderer is insane and therefore unfit for execution. The judge develops a relationship with the killer, a self-styled holy avenger, and learns of the disturbing events in his background that shaped his personality.
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By contrast Noiret is cold, calculating, emotionally stunted and reticent. The contrasts between the two are intense - middle class vs working class, soldier vs. civilian, anarchist vs. conservative. And yet Tavernier seems to be saying that the judge is in some way the assassin and the assassin the judge. The judge can see that Bouvier is insane, but insists that he's play-acting, because his sense of revenge requires that Bouvier goes to the guillotine.
This is a historical film set in the 1890s, and the Dreyfus case is in the background, ultimate manifestation of the corruption of justice by an intensely anti-semitic society. Tavernier suggests, but doesn't hammer the point, that there are parallels between Bouvier's case and Dreyfus's.
He also suggests that the impulses in Bouvier are in all of us. This is why, after Bouvier has confessed to killing and anally raping some of his victims, the Judge has to go and force sodomy on his reluctant mistress (Isabel Huppert).
As often happens in Tavernier, some of the crucial scenes in the plot development happen offscreen - we never see the execution for example, which the Judge has worked so hard for. Instead we get an intensely felt and intensely argued film, almost a philosophical dialogue, about the nature of crime, sanity and responsibility.
The film closes with an epigraph: Bouvier killed 12 children between 1893 and 1896; in the same period 2,500 children died working in French mines. This is an uncharacteristically angry film from Tavernier, but he never lets his anger divert him from telling the story through the characters.
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This is an excellent film about a very depraved murderer and violator of young women and the self-promoting efforts of a judge to realize justice as he perceived it. The preformance of Michel Galabru as the vile killer deserved an Oscar but, as a foreign-language film, it didn't even receive a mention in 1976. As his murders persisted over a two year period, the judge was already readying his prosecution in conversations with a fellow jurist. Eventually the two did have to deal with each other and I came to understand that the essential issue was the sanity of the accused. I'm no proponent of the death penalty but I couldn't seen that the issue was all that significant. After all, the murderer did on many occassions, make demands and requests that suggested a pretty clear knowledge of what was happening to him. Add to that the barbarity and extent of his crimes and the death penalty starts looking like the appropriate resolution. The murderer kept blaming others for his crimes by suggesting that he should have been better diagnosed and treated for his sexually perverse obsessions (more suggestions that the man was sane enough). I realize that I'm belaboring the point but wait til you see how the director, Bertrand Tavernier, gets caught up in it. Apparently in France you don't execute an insane individual and the judge saw that his path to fame involved the proper use of the guillotine. Thus the movie's ending disappoints and we find a minor portion of the film is now the focal point of the director.
These events, by the way, took place during the time of the infamous Dreyfus Affair which was referred to from time to time. I gathered that it was used to butress the director's depiction of the judge and his crowd (they didn't like the Captain). I would have to agree that the treatment of Captain Dreyfus was inexcusable but remember that his opponents were in the majority of French opinion for quite a while back then. I got a kick out of the murder's politics as well. He would frequently yell out "Long Live Anarchy, Long Live Socialism!". I presumed that those two political theories would be at each other's throats one they succeeded in jetissoning whatever powers that be.
I said that this is a very good movie and I want to repeat that. There's a lot of good dialogue and character development. But don't say I didn't warn you about the ending.