Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Innocents With Dirty Hands (1975)

Innocents With Dirty Hands (Les innocents aux mains sales) is a 1975 Claude Chabrol thriller.

The setup is so conventional and chichéd that we never seriously doubt that this is deliberate and that Chabrol has some surprises up his sleeve.

Julie (Romy Schneider) is married to Louis Wormser (Rod Steiger). He’s much older than her, he’s a self-pitying drunk and he can’t perform in the bedroom any more. Julie meets Jeff Marlo (Paolo Giusti), a handsome young aspiring writer. Julie reveals her unhappiness and sexual frustration to Jeff. Jeff takes immediate steps to solve her sexual frustration problems. Julie tells Jeff how very unhappy she is. She has to remain married to Louis because he’s rich but she’s very tired of him. If only some solution could be found to her problems.

You know where this is leading, and indeed pretty soon Julie and Jeff are planning a little accident for Louis. It’s basically The Postman Always Rings Twice but set among the decadent bourgeoisie. And of course the basic story has been done countless other times.

The night set for Louis’ accident arrives. They have decided that it would be wise for Jeff to slip over the border to Italy for a few days.

The police think they have a pretty good murder case. There are however some odd gaps in the police case, and the viewer will certainly notice these odd gaps. Certain things are assumed to have happened, but there’s no real proof. We start to suspect that there’s quite a lot that we don’t know.

Julie also starts to realise that there were some very important things that she didn’t know. And still doesn’t know.

The big plot twist at the midway point isn’t going to surprise anybody and I don’t think it was intended to. It’s the only possible explanation for certain events. I don’t think Chabrol was overly interested in the plot twists anyway. He was more interested in the psychological consequences of the plot twists. It’s the emotional twists that matter, not the narrative twists.

And Chabrol is much more interested in what happens after that major plot twist - it’s the actions that the characters take in response to the revelation that makes the movie start to become much more engrossing.

There’s a certain detachment to this movie. Chabrol isn’t trying to present us with a hero or a heroine with whom we’re going to empathise. He views their actions dispassionately. Audience members will have to decide if the actions of the characters are justified, and whether justice ever gets done. The police and the examining magistrate and Julie’s lawyer aren’t really sure either how justice would best be served and the law doesn’t care much either way.

Julie’s lawyer doesn’t think it makes much difference if she’s telling the truth or not. She’s beautiful so she’ll be believed anyway. And truth is whatever people happen to believe.

Romy Schneider is perhaps the movie’s biggest asset. She gives a complex performance. Julie is a woman whose motivations tend to shift, depending on her emotions and her sexual desires.

Rod Steiger is less hammy than usual.

Sex is pretty important in this movie. Not just sex as sex, but sex as it affects the mind and the heart as well as the body. The two main characters struggle to deal with sexual desires with which they’re not always comfortable. Love and sex make us do things we don’t want to do.

This isn’t an action-packed thrill-a-minute kind of thriller. It’s much more cerebral. What keeps us interested is that we never know for sure what the two central characters will do next, probably because they also don’t know what they’re going to do next.

If this is the kind of thriller you enjoy then you’ll be happy with this psychological study of love, hate, sex, murder, revenge, forgiveness and jealousy. Innocents With Dirty Hands turns out to be not at all the movie that it initially promised to be. It turns out to be a lot more interesting and it’s recommended.

The old Pathfinder Pictures DVD (from 2003) is letterboxed. The transfer is not dazzling but it’s acceptable and if you want to see this movie then it seems to be the only English-friendly option.

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