Foreign Review: Detective

At first glance Jean-Luc Goddard’s 1985 drama Detective looks and feels like a Robert Altman film. You have pretty much four intertwining stories that feed off each other as they move along. Altman was famous for the multi-story narrative that would eventually have the stories collide into one theme. Many directors have been influenced by Altman and his focus on character.

Jean-Luc Goddard was one of the founding members of French New Wave cinema. Which showcased a departure from standard cinema and explored a deeper and often darker approach to conventional storytelling. Goddard’s two most famous films “Breathless” and “Alphaville” were famous because of how they pushed that boundary even though they were two decades a part. If you haven’t seen either, seek them out especially Breathless.

In Detective, Goddard mixes up the crime drama into a multi-story narrative like Altman. The whole movie takes place in a hotel. You have one story that involves two detectives investigating a murder. One that involves a couple going through the ups and downs of marriage. You have a young boxer preparing and dealing with the aftermath of a fight. And finally it is revealed that the couple is blackmailing the boxer’s promoter.

French New Wave auteur Jean-Luc Goddard
French New Wave auteur Jean-Luc Goddard

What is really off-the-wall about the film is that it certain places the story will stop and the movie will start quoting random things. Like you have Shakespeare’s The Tempest, John Milton’s Paradise Lost, etc. On top of the crazy “quote” pauses, you have some rather disturbing images and frank nudity.
One scene that made me scratch my head was when the couple is delivered a tea cart for breakfast. There is a wet dead mouse on the cart and when the man pours his coffee it is blood. What was the significance of that scene? What effect was it trying to convey? Does “new friend” echo the blackmail scheme? I still don’t get it. But it was a rather intense image.

My favorite scenes were always the quieter scenes between the boxer and his lover (Stephane Ferrera and Emmanuelle Seigner) and the tenderness they shared. It is not what you would expect. Detective was Seigner’s second film. Three years after the film, she became famous for becoming director Roman Polanski’s most significant muse and wife. She then starred alongside Harrison Ford in Frantic.

I also adored the performances from Nathalie Baye and Claude Brasseur who play the couple. They seemed to be the most genuine and examined characters in the film.

Side note, this is the fourth film of Julie Delpy, who was 14 when she made the movie.

I can’t say I thoroughly enjoyed Detective but really anything that pushes the envelope in cinema is good to see at least one. Easily Breathless is still my favorite Goddard film. Look for more Goddard films as the blog continues.

3 out of 5

So Says the Soothsayer.

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