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July 10, 2014

Movie Review: The Man Who Lies (1968; Kino Lorber/Redemption Films)

...what's that old saying?? Something about a 'tangled web one weaves, when one practices to deceive'? Consider the pathological liar: The tales rendered, often outrageous and dazzling...even manipulative...though with an element of truth, which genuinely supports the fantasique fervor of the story told. Favorable focus on the storyteller...even to the point of 'superhuman' empowerment, or an incredibly sheltered naivete; they are the hero in their tales, or perhaps the hapless, unknowing victim. The surprisingly keen ability to weave a fantastical, seemingly supportive tale, right on the spot, given the clear urgency of the situation...though, that's where that aforementioned 'tangled web' comes into play, when the story becomes so convoluted with falsehood, it begins to fray, and come unraveled. And of course, there's the motive...the 'hanging carrot' clockwork reasoning that drives the recipient listener of the complex and intricate fabrication into potentially believing the manipulative teller of the tale...

...in director Alain Robbe-Grillet's brazenly artful, enigmatic and self-telling 1968 mystery/drama, "The Man Who Lies"...a joint French/Czechoslovakian production...does the film's mysterious and manipulative protagonist, rightly fit the definition, as suggested above?? Or is there method to the ensuing madness, as enigmatically depicted in the following 'tangled web' proceedings??...

...a frantic man, of dire desperation, in the midst of seemingly directionless flight. Unusually well-clothed, the sweat-drenched man weaves his way through a forest of bare, leaf-less trees. A good measure behind him, in relentless pursuit, a garrison of well-armed soldiers. Reaching an open field, the man sees potential sanctuary, in the form of a quaint and seemingly lifeless village. Stepping into the town's caf√©, the man is immediately confronted by the inquisitive and curious stares of the establishment's crowded patronage; the quietness of the looks quickly turn to resumed conversation with each other, the crust of which sports particular emphasis on the adored admiration of a young war hero and resistance fighter, Jean Robin, who years before, had once lived in the village, and has since been reported as having been killed, in the far-off battlements of war...
...introducing himself as Boris Varissa, the mystery man makes claim to the cafe's populous, that he indeed knew Jean quite well, and in fact, had come to the village, to seek him out, claiming to have not known of his passing; to further suggest his intimate relationship with the fallen hero, Boris relates detailed episodes of the past, associated with his supposed knowledge of Jean...detailed enough to appearingly convince the villages of his claim...
...upon further exploration of the village, 'Boris' stumbles upon the suggested home of the celebrated Jean, now presently occupied by Jean's suffering widow, as well as her sister and a rather attractive domestic...the three of whom, in the madness of the loss of Jean, have forged their own special and quite intimate relationship. Quickly integrating himself into this household, 'Boris'...in one way or another...seduces each of the home's beautiful and intimately voracious occupants, with his alluring tales of association with Jean...at some point, even claiming to be Jean, himself...finally believing that he has found a comfortable niche of solace, safety and sanctuary, from his relentless pursuers. However, that elating comfort is soon dissuaded, and the truth behind Boris' tales, as well as his underlining intent & purpose is brought to light, when yet another mysterious stranger appears in the town...himself, claiming to be.....
...the really cool thing about art-house styled films...the fervent and alluring appeal...the outrageously stylish and unconventional way that they are filmed and presented...how the odd and eclectic characters act & behave...is often based upon sole realization that storywise...situation-wise...they seem to exist within the realm of their own individual universe, and very much skewed from what, according to Hoyle, might be defined as reality...which, if one thinks about it, is what movies are actually supposed to do, though despite their under-appreciation by the mainstream, art-house films seem to do this the best. Without a doubt, there's no denying that "The Man Who Lies", upon viewing and mentally digesting, comes across as rather dreamy, surreal and quite twisted, with regards to the visuals, and the snippets of outrageously rendered, though strangely applicable audibles...
...herein, characters are often rendered in lingering and frozen, straight-on, profiled or slightly angled close-up...almost mannequin-like, as if one is looking at something...staring at something...but almost seems like he or she is staring past, or through, to something else...that is, unless the character is engaged in specifically intimate and mobile movement & action, as prescribed by the story. No musical soundtrack, to be heard of, here; instead...once again, depending upon the characters' behavior or response to behavior...a quick pluck of strings...a random tickle of piano keys...a brief blast of horns...amidst strangely, albeit poignantly juxapositioned placement of other random sound effects and moments of applause, which only add to the dream-like surrealism of the film's skewed proceedings...
...although the supporting cast of characters are never given full fervor, as far as their assorted pasts, and what they want...their behavior, in response not only to each other, but also to the main protagonist of the film...make them integral to the events taking place; it is their unique 'oddness' that draws attention, especially in scenes where intimate touching and playful eroticism, come into play. Like trying to view the world through a fish-eye lens, with line of sight being the clearest, and anything outside the line of sight, being vague and discerning, it is our falsehood-manufacturing mystery man, which is the prime focus. Actor Jean-Louis Trintignant deftly plays multiple roles in this surreal excursion...that of the mysterious refugee and underlining liar, Boris...the war hero, Jean, as depicted in flashback stories, claimantly marked by Boris...as well as portraying the...uh no, no, no...ain't gonna give that one away, folks. From a performance standpoint, Trintignant takes amazing care to differentiate the multiple characters he plays...adhering to a prescribed and trusted integrity, where required...and of course, effortlessly switching over to the manipulative unreliability, as suggested by the mysterious protagonist...in effect, cleverly maintaining a stewing level of intrigue and suspense, with regards to what is truth, and what is false...
...not totally mind-blowing, though enough to elicit a relevational, forehead-slapping 'whoa', upon viewing, director Alain Robbe-Grillet's "The Man Who Lies"...one of only a handful of films, from this artful, though quite under-appreciated filmmaker...is a very crafty piece of intrigue...uniquely twisted and original, unto itself...a step slightly outside what might be considered the norm, and yet, not really that far removed, as well. Very much reflective of films later conceived of by contemporary cult film favs, like David Lynch or Darren Aronofsky, and well worth checking out, out of something greater than mere curiosity...

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