If Jacques Tati had made a serial-killer movie . . .
vt A Full Day’s Work
France, Italy / 86 minutes / color / Cinétel, EIA, Président, Valoria, BAC Dir & Scr: Jean-Louis Trintignant Pr: Jacques-Éric Strauss Cine: William Lubtchansky Cast: Jacques Dufilho, Luce Marquand, Franco Pesce, Albin Guichard, Andrée Bernard, Louis Malignon, T. Requenae, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, Antoine Marin, Pierre Dominique, Vittorio Caprioli, Gisèle Abetissian, Gérard Streiff, Maurice Duc, Manuel Segura, Denise Péron, André Falcon, Hella Petri, Jean-Pierre Elga, Robert Orsini, Eugène Berthier, Gérard Sire, Jean-Louis Trintignant.
If you can imagine what the result might have been had Jacques Tati ever taken it into his head to make a serial-killer movie, you might begin to envisage how this, the first of Jean-Louis Trintignant’s two directorial outings, Une Journée Bien Remplie, plays. Leading man Jacques Dufilho on occasion even emulates the master in his body language and his walk. Despite the generally used English-language variant title, A Full Day’s Work, the main French title is really far better translated as “A Day Well Spent”: that gives you a far better idea of the caustic yet whimsical humor on offer here, because the day of the central character, mild-mannered French provincial baker Jean “Jeannot” Rousseau (Dufilho) is spent knocking off, in individual and inventive ways, the nine jurors who sent his murdering son Fernand to the guillotine.
(The subtitle translates roughly as—creak of schoolboy French moving into action—“Nine Unusual Murders Committed in the Same Day by a Solitary Man for Whom This is not a Profession.”)
Dad (Franco Pesce) holds the fort back at the bakery.
In this endeavor Jean is aided and abetted by his dear old mom (Marquand) and his dear old dad (Pesce), the former, dressed funereally and bearing a black umbrella, riding as sidecar passenger on Jean’s motorbike, the latter continuing the business of the bakery in Jean’s absence, and trying to cover for him when the cops come calling.
At first everything goes smoothly.
The guy looking out the rear window is juror Person (Gérard Streiff).
The picture the jurors see before they die.
The juror called Person (Streiff) is lured in his car to a remote location; before he knows quite what is going on, he’s being hoisted far aloft by a crane and then, of course, dropped and crushed. Perhaps the last thing he sees is the photo Jean is holding of son Fernand. (The photo is of one Georges Tourdiat, whose sole movie appearance this is; the youthful Fernand appears briefly, played by Requenae.)
Jean (Jacques Dufilho) seems almost empathetic as he watches Leluc die.
Juror Leluc (Duc) is in traction in the hospital subsequent to a serious traffic accident. Disguised as a doctor, Jean rejigs the traction so that Leluc essentially hangs himself. Juror Sauler (Segura) is blown up in his car, a fate that his wife Germaine (Petri) escapes because Jean has considerately distracted her with a box of chocolates supposedly sent by, we assume, her lover. Juror Bertrand (Péron), a seamstress and fortune teller, is slaughtered using a lethal bunch of lilies. (Yes, I’m not quite sure how that works either.)
Jean (Jacques Dufilho) has brought lethal lilies for . . .
. . . Mlle Bertrand (Denise Péron).
The next juror on the list, Jacquemont (Doniol-Valcroze), is playing the title role in a rehearsal for an alfresco performance of Hamlet when Jean and his mum move in. Trintignant gave himself a bit part as the director of this troupe, his main action being to calm down one of the more temperamental of the profoundly hammy bunch. It’s an entertaining homage to Shakespeare that this rehearsal should in effect become a play within a play.
Juror Jacquemont (Jacques Doniol-Valcroze) seems not the best of Hamlets. Behind him is Christiane Marciano as a page.
Jacquemont/Hamlet is lying on stage pretending to be dead when Jean’s crossbow bolt renders him in actuality so. The arrow is then stealthily retracted: Jean’s crossbow is not simply a crossbow but a combination crossbow/fishing rod.
(Dear old Mom wanted to use a semi-automatic handgun for this, complete with professional-looking silencer, but “We’re not bandits” hissed Jean disapprovingly.)
Mom (Luce Marquand) wants to use the gat on Hamlet/juror Jacquemont . . .
. . . but Jean dissuades her in the name of artistic integrity.
The cops are now beginning to move in on the activities of the pair, as we learn through hearing the radio news. This radio commentary (voiced by Sire) reappears intermittently throughout the movie, and plays a significant subsidiary part in driving the narrative forward. Later on, when things have taken a slight metafictional turn, we’ll even hear the announcer play the theme tune from “the newly released movie” Une Journée Bien Remplie!
Things begin to go awry for Jean and his mom when the next juror, Albert Roux (Marin), proves to have an identical twin brother (also Marin). Sorting out this confusion sets Jean behind schedule, so that, instead of offing the next juror, swimming-pool lifeguard Blanchet (Dominique), by electrifying said swimming pool, he has to go after him with the silenced gat.
Blanchet (Pierre Dominique) the lifeguard proves harder to bring down than Jean expected.
The cops are now hard on his tail. After a prolonged car chase—see? you even get a car chase!—Jean manages to murder the juror Aristide Mangiavacca (Caprioli) while the latter’s out hunting, before finally handing himself in.
The hunter Mangiavacca (Vittorio Caprioli) is out of his depth.
That still leaves one last juror, the turkey-keeping Widow Lacour (Abetissian), whose home has been put under the protection of not so much a small army of Gilbert & Sullivan-esque cops as a middle-sized one, but, even though in the custody of Police Commissioner Mignon (Orsini), Jean gets her too, oh yes.
The cops really mean it when they say they’re giving protection to . . .
. . . the Widow Lacour (Gisèle Abetissian), but . . .
. . . will it all be in vain? (Clue: yes.)
I suppose it’s reprehensible that Une Journée Bien Remplie is so often hilariously funny and never less than grinworthy—these are, after all, murders that we’re witnessing—but everything’s done with such a light inventive flair that the events have the affect of fantasy rather than reality. Even worse is the fact that we find ourselves actually rooting for the mass murderer. A lot of that has to do with the wonderfully sympathetic performance that Trintignant drew out of Jacques Dufilho, who manages to seem almost compassionate as he despatches his victims yet at the next moment, through quiet understatement, can be outrageously funny; in places, too, as mentioned, he deploys some of the same body humor that was Tati’s trademark—watch out, for example, for the moment that he vaults a gate only for the gate to swing open beneath him as he’s mid-vault. There are flashes of Tati-esque sharp-witted observation, too; watch the other cyclists on the road as Jean is cycling up a long hill. And there’s a marvelous piece of red-herringry when Jean does not in fact murder someone we assumed he was going to murder.
Technically speaking, the movie’s quite beautifully made. The sequences where the deadly duo are merely motoring through the countryside between “assignments” are stunningly lovely to watch. Similarly the handling of the play within the play, where the rehearsal is both backdrop and focus of interest, manages to impart a sort of dreamlike sense to the whole sequence. What impressed me most of all, perhaps, were the clever editing cuts between the various episodes. For example, at the end of the Hamlet sequence, the pallbearers carrying the dead Hamlet offstage suddenly realize that the actor Jacquemont really is dead. They fall away from each other in consternation, and the next we know we’re looking at a group of men falling into Blanchet’s swimming pool. For a moment we see those figures as the pallbearers before we recognize them as men in swimming trunks. It’s very pleasantly disconcerting.
Whenever we talk about comedies that center on multiple murderers the one movie that comes first to mind is of course Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) dir Robert Hamer, with Dennis Price, Joan Greenwood, Valerie Hobson and, playing numerous roles, Alec Guinness. Certainly some parallels can be drawn between the two movies, although Trintignant’s offering is the more imaginative of the two. There’s a greater similarity of basic plot between Une Journée Bien Remplie and one of the other movies discussed on this site, the non-comedy (well, not deliberately so, anyway) Die Bande des Schreckens (1960; vt The Terrible People; vt Hand of the Gallows) dir Harald Reinl, with Joachim Fuchsberger, Karin Dor, Fritz Rasp and Dieter Eppler, based on the Edgar Wallace novel The Terrible People (1926; vt The Gallows’ Hand). That movie likewise sees a murderer taking lethal revenge on the jurors who condemned a loved one to die. Of relevance too is The MISSING JUROR (1944), in which someone is bumping off the jurors who condemned an innocent man to death; even though he was exonerated at the last moment, by then he’d been driven mad by the experience.
Mom (Luce Marquand) waits patiently for another killing to be done.
Une Journée Bien Remplie was a flop on release (and nowadays can be quite hard to find). You can watch a trailer here, although the sound’s a bit distorted and there’s a spoiler. (Just to forestall the obvious snarky remarks, there are in fact far fewer spoilers in the description above than you might think.) There are other trailers and short extracts kicking around the intertubes. Amazon has copies of the French DVD releases, which is fine if you can play French DVDs and have adequate French; as far as I can work out, none of them come with subtitles. The movie very occasionally appears on TV, which is where I found it. And then, like a clot, didn’t get round to watching it until years later . . .
Why Une Journée Bien Remplie wasn’t a hit and why it didn’t gain an immediate cult following is a mystery to me. Do seek it out.