Dir. Pascal Thomas. France, 2007. 107 min.
This adaptation of an Agatha Christie crime story originally published in 1944 it is a handsome, pleasant but quite conventional cinematic piece of work, that wasa surprise choice to premiere at Pusan this year. With familiar faces like Melvil Poupaud, Chiara Mastroianni, Alessandra Martinez and Laura Smet, gathered around a grand lady of the French screen, Danielle Darrieux, and set in a lovely Bretagne location, it should have no trouble finding its way into wide cinema distribution.
It can rest assured of a long and healthy life on TV screens, always happy to acquire more of this type of product. But additional festival exposure is unlikely.
The solid plot reverts to the classic Agatha Christie format - a mansion in the country, a congregation of people who have every reason to do away with each other and a series of murders which are only preparatory steps for the real killing intended from the very beginning.
The rich old lady of the mansion, Mme Tressillan (Darrieux) invites her nephew Guillaume (Poupaud), his second wife Caroline (Smet) whom she despises, and his first wife, Aude (Mastroianni) for whom she has a great deal of sympathy, to spend a few days with her.
Also presentis a recently-retired state prosecutorTrevoz who turns out to be an old friend of the family.
At a hotel in the next town, a handsome gigolo who pretends to be an innocent bystander but is in fact Caroline's lover is biding his time.
Of course thereis also a butler and a maid (what Agatha Christie story could do without them'). There's alsoplenty ofred herrings.
The first murder doesn't even look like one. Old Trevoz, who has a heart condition, dies of a coronary afterclimbingtoo many stairs in a state of slight inebriation.
The second, that of Mme Tressillan, is far more suspicious, and at this point, a famous inspector from Paris, Bataille (Morel), is asked to intervene.
With the help of a witness who conveniently materialises at the right moment, Bataille finds the solution and invites the whole remaining cast for a ride in a boat, and only there does he reveal the true identity of the murderer.
The workmanlike script offers stays close, in both spirit and structure, to the original novel, though it offers few surprises to Christie fans.
The technical contribution is generally on a high level but it is Thomas' direction and his work with the cast where there are problems.
A veteran who has been making films for close to 40 years, he is best known for light boulevard fare, indulging in overplay and exaggerated effusion of emotions, which sometimes are useful in comedies.
Applying the same approach here, produces a dissonance that mars the general air of gentrified composure typical to Christie's characters.
The most severe case is that of Caroline as played by Smet, who is supposed to hate with a passion her husband's first wife, in whom she senses a competitor.
Encouraged to play a strident shrew, Smet twists her face around, screeches madly at the slightly excuse, is rude and vulgar without any reason or purpose, except, possibly to have the audience hope she might be one of the first victims.
And that, of course, does not happen. Poupaud, one of the more valiant new talents of French cinema, effortlessly stays in character until the last reel when he suddenlyindulges in the hammiest, most amateurish display of anguish seen on a screen for a long time.
Martinez and Mastroianni do a fair but undistinguished job, Morel seems to enjoy himself as the wily inspector but the show is stolen by the superbly composed Danielle Darrieux, who feels in her right element and lets everyone know it.
Incidentally, a TV adaptation of the same novel, done for ITV, has come out this year with the legendary Mrs Marple (Geraldine McEwan) as the sleuth, a slight diversion from the Christie original which had an Inspector Battle solve the case with the help of his nephew.
Les Films Francais
distribution (at home)
Clemence de Bieville