Dernier Domicile Connu (1970)

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Lino Ventura, midst trademark ass-kicking, warms to Marlène Jobert!
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vt Last Known Address
France, Italy / 101 minutes / color / Cité, Valoria, Parme, Simar, Rizzoli Dir & Scr: José Giovanni Pr: Jacques Bar Story: The Last Known Address (1965) by Joseph Harrington Cine: Étienne Becker Cast: Lino Ventura, Marlène Jobert, Michel Constantin, Paul Crauchet, Alain Mottet, Béatrice Arnac, Guy Heron, Albert Dagnant, Monique Mélinand, Marcel Pérès, Germaine Delbat, Hervé Sand, François Jaubert, Philippe March, Jean Sobieski, Bianca Saury, Raymond Meunier, Frédéric Santaya, Luc Bartholomé, Michel Charrel, Max Desrau.

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Paris cop Marceau Leonetti (Ventura) has a reputation for toughness. In the opening minutes of the movie—as per the opening minutes of a Bond movie—we witness some action-packed sequences that have nothing to do with the plot but fix in our minds that this is the hard man of Paris policing. When he arrests the drunk-driving son of a prominent Paris lawyer, however, he discovers there’s something tougher than him: political corruption.

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Arnold (Albert Dagnant, left) explains to Marceau (Lino Ventura) that he’s this month’s scapegoat.

His boss, Arnold (Dagnant), manages to spare Marceau the worst of the flak, but only by dint of transferring him to a sleepy suburban precinct, the Commissariat du XVIIIth Arrondissement, Section Junot 54. There the most exciting case that’s likely to come Marceau’s way . . . well, one day a little boy (uncredited) reports that his fancy pet pigeons have been stolen and, even though the desk sergeant declines to do anything about it, Marceau, like the good serious-crime cop that he is, successfully tracks down and nails the perpetrator.

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Big Frank Lambert (Alain Mottet) has a job for Marceau.

But that’s hardly enough. So, when one day his old colleague and friend “Big” Frank Lambert (Mottet) phones him up to recruit him into a new Special Squad that Lambert’s been asked to form, Marceau leaps at the chance. The fact that the new squad liaises with the Flying Squad and Vice sounds great; in fact it’s been formed to catch a plague of perverts who’ve been pestering young women in the Paris cinemas.

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Marceau’s new partner, Jeanne Dumas (Marlène Jobert), arrives for her first day working with the Special Squad.

As his partner, Marceau is assigned a rookie, Jeanne Dumas (Jobert). At first glance he realizes she’s not so much his partner as his baitfish: it’s her job to sit in the cinemas looking repressed and virginal—to be a sort of perve-magnet, luring the creeps so that Marceau can then leap out of the shadows and duff them up arrest them. Jeanne finds the job depressing and draining, as who wouldn’t, and is sufficiently ashamed of what she’s doing that she lies about it to her parents; but, even so, she’s still sufficiently in love with being a cop that her enthusiasm pulls her through the low times.

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Gravel (Hervé Sand, center) reassigns Marceau (Lino Ventura) and Jeanne (Marlène Jobert).

The Marceau–Jeanne team proves to be one of the most successful in the squad, thereby earning the jealousy of another senior officer deployed there, Gravel (Sand; yes, it does sound as if there’s some wordplay at work). Gravel takes great pleasure one day in informing Marceau that he’s been drafted into another case.

Five years ago a crooked businessman called Soramon (Heron) murdered his business partner, the only witness being the accountant Roger Martin (March). A widower living with his cute, highly intelligent but chronically ill little daughter Marie (Saury), Martin fled in fear when Soramon was arrested; the cops have been rather lethargically looking for him ever since. Now that Soramon’s trial is just a few days away, Marceau is given the task of making one final effort to find the elusive witness.

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Marceau (Lino Ventura) and Jeanne (Marlène Jobert) stalk through the streets of Paris.

It seems more likely that the plan is for Marceau to be the scapegoat for the cops’ failure to locate Roger Martin, because obviously it’s impossible for Marceau to succeed in a few days when swarms of cops have failed over a period of years.

Obviously impossible, but this is Lino Ventura we’re talking about, so . . .

The person who has engineered this odd transfer of duties is Marceau’s old boss Arnold, who has faith that, if anyone could succeed, it’d be Marceau; besides, even if he’s unsuccessful, trying to solve the apparently unsolvable will offer Marceau far more satisfaction than nabbing inadequates in cinemas.

Not quite through anyone’s intention, Jeanne gets herself detailed to be Marceau’s partner in this quest.

So we have ourselves the setup for a fairly traditional movie. The two cops are the archetypal chalk’n’cheese pair, Marceau being the hardbitten professional alongside the young and idealistic naïf, Jeanne, who seems almost schoolgirlish by contrast. And, exactly as you’d expect, the two warm to each other fairly quickly, although luckily they avoid (but only just) the tiresome cliché of a May–September (more like March–October) romance. The affection springs up not least because of the way that Marceau’s likewise grisled peers tend patronizingly and quite openly to regard Jeanne as at best an appetizing piece of skirt.

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Allister (Raymond Meunier, left) and Favre (Frédéric Santaya) are skeptical about the chances of success in finding Roger Martin.

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Little do the cops know that assassin Greg (Michel Constantin) is spying on them from above.

Here, for example, is a bit of dialogue when Marceau and Jeanne interview a cop involved in the original case, Allister (Meunier), and Allister’s sidekick Favre (Santaya):

Jeanne: “Can the trial be postponed?”
Allister: “Postponed!”
Favre: “I can see you’re green. Remember, he’s got the best lawyers.”
Jeanne: “A lawyer’s not God almighty!”
Marceau: “It depends.”

That last line is, of course, spoken with deep irony by Marceau: he was sent to the boonies because a corrupt lawyer set out to destroy him.

The bulk of the movie follows, in perhaps tiresomely picaresque fashion, the police-procedural trail of Marceau and Jeanne as they track down Roger Martin using one lead after another, the crucial clue being that Marie Martin was a sick girl who required medication. We soon become aware—as eventually do Marceau and Jeanne—that the detectives are themselves being pursued by Soramon’s goon and hitman Greg (Constantin) and an equally vicious sidekick of Greg’s, Aden (Sobieski, father of Leelee Sobieski), their efforts aided by Soramon’s moll Silvia (Arnac).

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Aden (Jean Sobieski) on the prowl.

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Silvia (Béatrice Arnac) visits Soramon in jail.

Marceau and Jeanne carry out lots of interviews, far too many to mention here. Although they’re not of great importance, I especially liked the ones with mechanic Raison (Charrel) and his gigantic brother Jo (Bartholomé) and with the dotty, paranoid woman who once lived next to the Martins, Mlle Manccini (uncredited).

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Mlle Manccini (uncredited, although I think it may be Mathilde Ceccarelli) offloads her paranoia on Jeanne (Marlène Jobert) and Marceau (Lino Ventura).

Neither of those interviews lead to anything more than the next step on the trail. More substantive is the interrogation of Martin’s ex-neighbors Jacques Loring (Crauchet) and his wife (the wonderful Monique Mélinand). It seems little Marie used to spend some time with Jacques Loring every day; initially we suspect the shy, agoraphobic picture-framer Loring had some kind of pedophilic crush on the girl, but Jeanne extracts from him the truth, that he really just did adore the child as a fellow spirit, an ultra-sensitive individual who, like himself, slightly feared and was perhaps too raw for the world.

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Jeanne (Marlène Jobert) watches Jacques Loring (Paul Crauchet) clam up.

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Mme Loring (Monique Mélinand) tends to overpower her mild-mannered husband.

Eventually—after Marceau gets savagely beaten up by some of Soramon’s thugs even though he debilitates all but one of them (remember, this is Lino Ventura we’re talking about)—the two mismatched cops track down Martin and he’s persuaded to testify. The actual scene of his testifying is very neatly done. Rather than offer us a standard courtroom scene, director Giovanni shows merely a bare room with the rudiments of a dock; we see not the testimony but just Martin’s swearing in as a witness. Obviously, this trick must have gone easy on the movie’s budget; at the same time, though, it means that, because of the way our minds tend to fill in gaps, we get about a half-hour’s worth of story in a matter of seconds.

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This is a Lino Ventura movie, so of course he gets beaten up.

After the trial—thanks to Martin’s indispensable evidence, Soramon gets put away—Gravel and the other cops more or less abandon Martin to his fate . . .

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Roger Martin (Philippe March) testifies.

With Marceau and Jeanne having become obviously so fond of each other, and with both of them falling instantly in love with Marie—a love that’s reciprocated—we seem clearly to be being set up for a Hallmark Channel–style happy ending (“You mean l’Inspecteur Marceau Leonetti really is Santa Claus, Jeanne?”), but this is an early French neonoir so of course our expectations are shattered.

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Marie (Bianca Saury) checks with her dad that it’s okay to go with Jeanne (Marlène Jobert).

That almost-romance between Jeanne and Marceau is handled with a nice sense of balance between the wry and the real-life soppiness of people becoming fond of each other. The first time Marceau escorts Jeanne back to her apartment building they have this conversation on the sidewalk:

Jeanne: “It’s nice and quiet. Well, I’m sleeping with Proust.” [holds up books by way of explanation]
Marceau:He won’t keep you up for long.”
Jeanne: “I spend whole nights reading Proust. Don’t you?”

Much later, when Jeanne’s hiding out in Marceau’s apartment, she discovers he’s bought himself a Proust novel. It’s probably the only book he owns . . .

Visually Dernier Domicile Connu is a very beautiful movie—it’s almost impossible to describe how much cinematographer Étienne Becker’s lens seems to be in love with Paris—and it has a good if sometimes repetitive score by François de Roubaix.

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Although Marlène Jobert’s performance as Jeanne is arguably rather shallow, the shallowness underlined by an implausibly rendered and implausibly sudden shift in mood by her character perhaps two-thirds of the way through, the actress has a very good chemistry with Ventura; perhaps what I saw as shallow was an attempt to convey the extent to which Jeanne is an ingenue.

Director Giovanni was a collaborator with the Nazis during their occupation of France, and in the aftermath of WWII committed at least three murders for gain. For the latter crimes he was sentenced to death, a sentence later commuted to a long period of incarceration; for his other crimes he likewise received heavy prison sentences. In the end he served just eleven and a half years. Thereafter, a lifelong sympathizer with rightwing causes, he achieved renown as a novelist, screenwriter and movie director. Among his many credits are:

  • Le CLAN DES SICILIENS (1968); screenwriter
  • CLASSE TOUS RISQUES (1960); screenwriter, based on his own novel
  • COMME UN BOOMERANG (1976); director and screenwriter
  • Le DEUXIÈME SOUFFLE (1966); director and screenwriter, based on his own novel
  • Les GRANDES GUEULES (1966); screenwriter, based on his own novel
  • HO! (1968); screenwriter, based on his own novel
  • Le TROU (1959); screenwriter, based on his own novel

Obviously to call the man an unmitigated turd would be to euphemize, yet he created some fine movies of which, despite its occasionally unsure handling and overall narrative uncertainty, Dernier Domicile Connu is indubitably one.

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6 thoughts on “Dernier Domicile Connu (1970)

  1. I have developed quite a fondness for Lino Ventura through movies such as Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (Lift to the Scaffold) and Classe Tous Risques. Debier is a new one on me, so I shall try to see it out. The cinematography does look very beautiful…

    • I’m quite a fan of his too, as I think you can guess! He brings a sort of soul to his hard-man performances, a sort of ruefulness that’s diametrically opposed to the screen personas of such Hollywood figures as Steven Seagal and Bruce Willis.

      Anyway, I hope you enjoy the movie when you come across it!

  2. Yeah, an absolutely awful human being, but as you say John it would be unfair to completely ignore his career. But then again many wouldn’t even look at Kazan and he was far less repugnant. LE TROU is Giovanni’s greatest screen credit. Haven’t seen this particular film but applaud you on a master class piece here.

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