Dir: Pascal Thomas. Fr.2005. 105mins.
A French adaptation ofAgatha Christie's same-named novel, By The Pricking Of My Thumbs findsthe right balance between silly humour and creepy mystery. Directed by PascalThomas (La Dilettante) and starring Andre Dussolier - best known outsideof France as the unseen narrator of Amelie - and Catherine Frot (TheDinner Game), it is a capable, if slight, movie that captures the relaxedChristie atmosphere, transferring the story from the English to the Frenchcountryside.
Though France's cinematicmarketplace is crowded with a glut of releases this spring, By The PrickingOf My Thumbs has attracted a strong audience looking for a light, ruralmurder mystery with an amiable cast. Likewise, Agatha Christie fans everywhere shouldfind it a winning adaptation, particularly in the UK. After all, the story mayhave been translated into another language and country, but its humour and toneremain decidedly more British than French.
The plot is more or lessfaithful to Christie's, telling the story of Belisaire and Prudence Beresford,a couple with an idyllic country house who visit Belisaire's (Dussolier) auntat a rather picaresque retirement home. There, Prudence (Frot) meets a strange,old woman with the illustrious name of Rose Evangelista (Bujold) who speaksabout ghosts and other murdered residents of the home.
Not long after, moreresidents are dead, including the aunt who had recently been given a paintingby Evangelista. Prudence, bored by her homemaker life and the visiting familyof her daughter, knows she's seen the old mansion from the painting somewhereand sets about trying to find it. Her husband eventually gets involved, thoughhe is initially consumed with his job as part of a national security bureau incomic scenes that are reminiscent of Dr Strangelove.
But it is Woody Allen's ManhattanMurder Mystery that most comes to mind: both films, a hair shy off farce,feature a comedic married couple led by a tenacious, snooping wife trying tosolve a life-and-death mystery (French marketing materials successfully conveythis quirky humour while promoting Ms Christie prominently as the sourcematerial).
Throughout audiences aretreated to lush shots of the French Alps region, with its verdant, rollinghills and quaint villages. Aside from these landscape shots, there are fewsurprises cinematographically; the film is more about the thrill that itsoverly-curious characters get as they snoop around. Both Dussolier and Frot arecharming to watch making their way through the story with the right mix ofjunior detective spunk and goofiness.
Still, the film may move tooploddingly, as it takes the first 20 minutes to really establish the thrust ofthe story. With a comic murder mystery, it's best to cut to the meat of themystery, and perhaps some if its slack could have been trimmed to give it aquicker pace.
As she begins to findherself intrigued by the strange happenings around her, Frot's characterrecites in English those famed, sinister words from Macbeth: "By thepricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes". It serves in turn tointrigue the viewer for what lay ahead - but what does come has more wan whimsythan wickedness.
Prod cos: Ah! Victoria! Films, France 2 Cinema, Rhone-AlpesCinema
Int'l sales: UGC International
Fr dist: UGC
Exec prod: Olivier Horlait
Prod: Alain Cadier
Scr: Francois Caviglioni,Nathalie Lafaurie, from the novel by Agatha Christie
Cine: Renan Polles
Ed: Catherine Dubeau, Marie De LaSelle
Prod des: Katia Wyszkop
Main cast: Andre Dussolier,Catherine Frot, Genevieve Bujold, Laurent Terzieff, Valerie Kaprisky