Little Known Films: Monsieur Hire (1989)

France 81 minutes.

FINALLY available on DVD and on the late Roger Ebert’s list of Great Movies comes one of the best French films ever made and only now being widely seen. Monsieur Hire based on a haunting short story by Georges Simenon, directed by Patrice Leconte (The Hairdresser's Husband), and starring Michel Blanc, tells the story of a quiet, tidy middle aged man who runs a small tailoring business in Paris. He bothers no one and, in return, is persecuted by his neighbors for his aloofness - they bang on his door, throw flour over him, and whisper under their breath when he walks by. It’s true that he seems indifferent to this abuse but this doesn’t explain why he endures it. In fact the reason is simple - Alice (Sandrine Bonnaire). Every night he returns home to his darkened apartment, cooks a boiled egg, puts on the same piece of classical music, and stands at his window, staring across the alley and into Alice’s apartment. She is a young woman and the attraction seems obvious but, somehow, this is more than simple voyeurism.

With astonishingly subtle finesse the fine strands of their motivations are teased into the light, revealing the fear and hope that underlies love. Their communication relies on vision and scent; he is almost translucent (both in body and spirit) but as soon as Alice arrives there is a splash of color, life and lingering odor. The film is in color but Hire’s world is in black and white. Together with extremely fine acting, the result is an extraordinary and touching movie of obsession, tragedy, and devotion.

In 1989, I saw this film at the Fine Arts theatre in L.A. The fact that it deals with loneliness and solitude was more than a bit ironic since I was the only one in the theatre. It has stayed with me for twenty five years and the only injustice that would be worse than the one that takes place in this film is the one if you don’t see it. It is now available exclusively at the Palisades library.