Academic journal article CineAction

Virtues of Theft: Andre Techine's Thieves

Academic journal article CineAction

Virtues of Theft: Andre Techine's Thieves

Article excerpt

"The truth behind this, which we are all so quick to disavow, is that man is not a gentle creature who retaliates only when attacked. Part of his instinctive nature is a large dose of aggressiveness. His neighbor is not only a potential helper or sexual object but an object of temptation. Man is tempted to satisfy his need for aggression at his neighbor's expense--to exploit him at work, take advantage of him sexually, plunder and manipulate him, torture and kill him. It is precisely because your neighbor is not worthy of love and is, in fact your enemy, that you must love him as yourself."

Marie LeBlanc/Catherine Deneuve in Thieves

Analysis shows that a relation (always social) determines its terms, and not the reverse, and that each individual is a locus in which an incoherent (and often contradictory) plurality of such relational determinations interact. Moreover, the question at hand concerns modes of operation or schemata of action... an operational logic whose models go as far back as the age-old ruses of fishes and insects that disguise or transform themselves in order to survive.... The purpose... is.. to bring to light the models of action characteristic of users whose status as the dominated element in a society (a status that does not mean that they are either passive or docile) is concealed by the euphemistic term "consumers." Everyday life invents itself by poaching in countless ways on the property of others.

Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (xi-xii)

ACROSS GENRES AND REPUTATIONS, OLD AND NEW, THIS year's French cinema has feasted on thieves of many varieties. Claude Chabrol's rebellious pair in La Ceremonie are the most obvious, stealing clothes or the mail for spite, but stealing rifles for firearms, in their protest against subjugation and hypocrisy. Claire Denis' lonely adolescent in her ingeniously impressionistic Nenette et Boni kidnaps a baby that not only brings to life the stolen affection of his fantasies but serves as a sign of faith in his sister and their mutual love. In Gilles Mimouni's L'Appartement, an homage to Hitchcock and Hollywood classics, a young woman appropriates her friend's persona--her image, name, and habitat--to steal a relationship with the man pursuing her. Claude Lelouch's romanticly stylish Men, Women: User's Manual presents a female doctor who steals and redirects confidential medical information between two patients to retaliate against fearless male connivance that resurfaces heroically. And in Ismael Ferroukhi's L'lnconnu, Catherine Deneuve simply steals a chance moment with "the unknown" that is pure poetry. The results of all these thefts, real and symbolic, are imaginative and heartwarming. I would like to add to this mere fragment of a list Andre Techine's Thieves (Les Voleurs), which shows us how the cinema can serve as a formal model, a parallel process, for our emotional development in life.

In the mid-1990s Techine is one who appears to be making films more because he had much to say than because he has particularly cinematic ways of saying it. His screenplays, dense with verbiage, are demanding vehicles for some of the best French actors today because his characters emerge as increasingly complex with their own inherent contradictions. They are familiar and surprising at once, often baffling but compelling as they steer us into the morality mazes of our everyday behaviors. Their depth is all the more reason that we are content to view Thieves (1995) as an astute investigation of the sociopathologies taken up in the best of gangster and detective films, mysteries and films noirs.

Yet trying to dismantle Thieves is like pulling angel hair from the needles of an evergreen tree: successive attempts at separate branches reveal the task to be prickly at best and seemingly futile, given the inseparability of the fibers from the form they cling to and from each other as well. Hardly a person or situation in the film is autonomous or insignificant, just as in our everyday world we are constantly playing out, in our various relations, conflicts derived from earlier and adjacent ones. …

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