Lust and betrayal on a bleak French island!
vt The Accident
France / 91 minutes / bw / Félix, Univers, TCF Dir: Edmond T. Gréville Pr: José Benazeraf Scr: Frédéric Dard, Edmond T. Gréville Story: L’Accident (1961) by Frédéric Dard Cine: Jean Badal Cast: Magali Noël, Georges Rivière, Danick Patisson (i.e., Danik Patisson), Roland Lesaffre, Jean Combal.
Young and lovely teacher Françoise Cassel (Patisson, a former beauty queen) comes to take up a post at the school on the remote Brittany island of Kergreach—the location used was l’Ile-de-Bréhat, whose inhabitants played most of the many supporting roles. She finds the school in a very decrepit state, as indeed are its director and hitherto sole teacher, Julien Avène (Rivière), and his alcoholic wife Andrea (Noël).
Françoise: “Are there many students?”
Julien: “Fishermen drown less and less, and they have more and more kids.”
The living quarters to which Andrea shows Françoise are the most decrepit of all: rain not so much drips through the leaky roof as streams. After a sleepless night, Françoise in desperation erects a tent inside the room and thereafter sleeps inside it—moving the tent outside when the weather becomes more benign.
Francoise (Danik Patisson) spends a sleepless night in her new digs.
On first arriving on the island, Françoise met the village idiot, Yvon le Goualec (Lesaffre), who took a shine to her. He has an obsession with the Chinese threat, and keeps coming out with Trumpesque lines like “The Chinese are green.”
As Yvon (Roland Lesaffre) listens in, Francoise (Danik Patisson) makes a phonecall.
One night on returning to her quarters she discovers that someone has lit the fire in preparation for her. Too cold and wet to think too hard about this, she has shucked off most of her sodden clothing before she realizes that Yvon is watching her from behind a curtain. Her scream brings Julien running.
Yvon (Roland Lesaffre) spies on Francoise as she undresses.
After he’s thrown Yvon out—“One day the Chinese will come, ha ha ha, with long teeth like the teeth of camels!” comments Yvon—Julien tells her he’s fallen madly, passionately in love with her, that he no longer loves Andrea—all the usual stuff. In a very nicely handled sequence, we see it dawn on Françoise that Julien is more of a hazard than Yvon ever was; she tells him to leave, toot sweet, and that she’ll get a transfer if he persists on pressing his attentions on her.
Andrea (Magali Noël) shows Francoise (Danik Patisson) the island’s “graveyard” of old fishing boats.
Andrea, understandably, is at a fever pitch of jealousy. In a moment of candor she explains to Françoise that she came to Kergreach with Julien in hopes that, confined with her in such a small and remote community, he’d have no choice but to rediscover his love for her. The plan didn’t work—Andrea discovered that it was she who was the prisoner on the island—and the arrival of Françoise has, of course, blown to smithereens any last chances that it might. To escape her pain, Andrea spends most of her time whacking back the pear brandy while listening futilely to language-learning records; her hope is to learn Russian so that, when Julien doesn’t comprehend what she’s saying to him, at least they’ll both have the excuse that it was the language he didn’t understand, not her.
In love with Francoise or not, Julien (Georges Rivière) is still open for a spot of seduction by Andrea (Magali Noël).
Françoise writes a letter to the French educational authorities registering a complaint and requesting a transfer but Julien intercepts her at the mailbox. In the old days in Spain, he tells her, prisoners about to be executed were given an extra fifteen minutes of life before being made to ascend the gallows. That brief reprieve was called the King’s Fifteen Minutes. Would Françoise be so kind as to grant him a “King’s Fifteen Minutes”?
So they go off for a scenic ramble together along the clifftops, Julien all the while trying to be as charming as possible. In the end Françoise, while still repelling his advances, agrees to stay on for a while.
Andrea (Magali Noël) jealously watches the two young things trysting.
Just then she’s bitten on the leg by a viper. Julien promptly delivers the recommended first aid—lancing the wound and sucking out the venom—and then carries her back to the school. Andrea, realizing that the first aid would not have been entirely without compensations for him, becomes more viciously jealous than ever. She goes up to the clifftops and finds another snake, which she secretes in the cellar, planning to fling it at Françoise when the time is right.
A secret message for Francoise from her boss. Subtle stuff, eh?
Julien finally wears down Françoise’s resistance, and the pair embark on a passionate and reckless affair. It’s perfectly obvious to Andrea what’s going on, and she invites Julien and the younger woman for a picnic on a neighboring island, where they can visit the chapel of Kergrist . . . and, of course, where Andrea can arrange that the snake bites Françoise. But the snake has gone from its hiding place and everything is set up for Julien to turn the tables on his rejected wife . . .
. . . or not, as the case may be. In the end there’s a murder for the local detective-inspector (Combal) to solve but, lacking any evidence and with a false accusation in the air, he must fall back on basic psychology to coax a confession from the killer.
Andrea (Magali Noël) suspects (correctly) that her husband is the lover to whom Francoise (Danik Patisson) is talking on the phone.
Francoise (Danik Patisson) shows guilt even though as yet innocent, sort of.
The movie has some very successful sequences, and one or two that are less so. A low moment comes when Andrea sets up a dinner for the three protagonists at which she deliberately gets Françoise drunk to the point of collapse. Her aim is to show Julien that his wife isn’t the only one who can unattractively reek of alcohol. The scheme fails, of course: Julien sees Françoise as a tenderly innocent victim. The sequence is marred by hamfisted direction and by clumsy acting from Patisson—who’s otherwise very good, as are Rivière and especially Noël. Ignoring such blemishes, the movie’s for the most part completely absorbing. The skilled selection and use of exquisite locations go a long way toward covering up the fact, obvious here and there, that director Gréville didn’t have a whole lot of budget to play with.
Yvon (Roland Lesaffre) tries to dissuade Julien from hurting Francoise.
Frédéric Dard (1921–2000) was an astonishingly prolific writer of crime fiction, the author of over three hundred novels, of which more than half were in the long series of thrillers (later becoming satires) featuring the Bondesque spy San-Antonio. Despite the fact that the San-Antonio novels have sold many millions of copies in French, almost none of them have been translated into English, which is frustrating.
Dard was responsible, not just for L’Accident’s source novel, but also for much of the screenplay, with particular emphasis on the dialogue. And there are some joys to be found there. As a single example, Andrea at one stage, in a teasing mode, asks Julien to describe what he thinks the man must be like whose voice speaks all the phrases on her language records. Tall and skinny, with glasses and gray hair, he tells her, clearly without giving much thought to the matter. The touching moment comes when Andrea thanks him for “introducing” her to someone she has heard so often but never actually met before.
For all his shallowness and callousness, for all the misery he’s put her through, Andrea still loves Julien deeply. While in other movies the vengeful wronged female might be painted as a figure of loathing—think FATAL ATTRACTION (1987)—here we see Andrea as a very sympathetic character. This is all the more effective in that, initially, our sympathies lie entirely with the sweet-faced Françoise, thrown into this mess through no fault of her own. The contest for our sympathies—and the conundrum that either of these two women could see anything in the vapid Julien—is perfectly expressed late on in the movie, as Julien is driving Andrea and Françoise to the Kergrist chapel. He glances backward and forward between Andrea in the passenger seat and Françoise in the back, and we can feel the tension in the car rising. The one person whom we actively dislike is the one whose viewpoint we’re supposedly sharing.
L’Accident is no great lost classic but, with its evocative settings, its generally fine performances and its idiosyncratic screenplay, it has a great deal to offer. The soundtrack consists of adroitly deployed extracts from Tchaikovsky’s fourth and sixth symphonies.
Farewell to the island.