Nuit d’Or (1976)

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“My name is Marie, the arsonist, the lunatic. Meet me tonight at my mother’s. Signed, Michel”
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vt Die Nacht aus Gold; vt Golden Night
France, WG / 79 minutes / color / Eurofrance, U.G.C., Société Française de Production, F.R.3, Maran Dir: Serge Moati Pr: Philippe Dussart Scr: Françoise Verny, Serge Moati Cine: André Neau Cast: Bernard Blier, Klaus Kinski, Marie Dubois, Jean-Luc Bideau, Charles Vanel, Anny Duperey, Elisabeth Flickenschildt, Raymond Bussières, Valérie Pascale, Maurice Ronet, Catherine Arditi, Martine de Breteuil, Jean-Pierre Sentier, Fernand Guiot, Catherine Therouenne.

An offering that has a lot of the feel of a giallo—the borderline surrealism, the hyper-real color use, the sense that the movie’s reality is taking place inside a sort of bubble universe where the rules resemble but are not identical with the ones we’re accustomed to, the visual and narrative style, the grotesquery, etc.—but lacks both any gore to speak of and much by way of nudity/sex. In fact, it seems to tip a mocking hat at these giallo conventions in its early moments, when we see Commissaire Fernand Pidoux (Blier) indulging—as perforce do we—in a little trivial voyeurism, watching through binoculars as his pretty neighbor (Therouenne) undresses. She suddenly senses his attention and crossly draws her blinds, and that’s the end of his—and our—cheap thrill.

Bernard Blier as Fernand Pidoux.

A couple of years ago, accused of being the Golden Chain Killer—who strangled an 11-year-old girl in the rue Duquesnes using a, you’ve guessed it, golden chain—corporate heir and amateur puppeteer Michel Fournier (Kinski) was killed and cremated.

Or so the world thought.

Now the cop in charge of the investigation, Pidoux, receives a package containing an ugly handmade puppet and a billet:

“I’m not dead, and you know it. You burnt me alive. I’m rising from the ashes.—Michel”

Soon after, Michel’s father, Charles Fournier (Vanel), receives a nighttime phone call telling him that “I’m not dead. You have burnt my body but I’m not dead.” Following instructions to look out the window, he sees the silhouetted figure of his son Michel emerge from the phone box across the road and walk away.

Charles Vanel as Charles Fournier.

Michel’s brother Henri (Bideau) likewise learns of Michel’s “resurrection,” and so, in a far more concrete fashion, does Henri’s wife Véronique (Dubois): Michel makes his way into the beauty salon where she’s lying naked beneath a sheet and, with her consent, removes the sheet. (Okay, so there’s a tad more nudity than I indicated.)

Marie Dubois as Véronique Fournier.

Jean-Luc Bideau as Henri Fournier.

Michel’s mother, Anna (Flickenschildt), is completely unaware of his first attempt to inform her that he’s alive, she being at the time in a drunken stupor—her principal daily occupation.

We soon enough find that Michel and Véronique have for a long time been lovers—since before, even, she married Henri—and that Véronique’s child Catherine (Pascale, a future Miss France) is most likely Michel’s rather than Henri’s. All that Michel really wants to do is take Véronique and Catherine and go somewhere far away where the three of them can be happy together.

Valérie Pascale as Catherine.

We’re given no clear details as to why everyone thought Michel was dead. We know the cremation was real enough, and it seems Pidoux was convinced he’d got his man, but, other than that, things are just glossed over. Since the cremation Michel has been hiding out in the elegant country manor that’s the HQ of a cult called the Temple of the Son of the True Light, the Temple’s leader, Sister Andrée (Duperey), clearly having become another of his lovers.

Anny Duperey as Sister Andrée.

At the same time he has somehow, apparently, established a rather posh puppet/doll shop, where presumably he runs the perpetual risk of being recognized. (That the public might indeed recognize him is underscored by a short scene in which a woman [de Breteuil] who has spotted his habit of following Catherine to and from her music lesson challenges him as the Golden Chain Killer.)

Klaus Kinsky as Michel Fournier . . .

. . . and in puppet form.

Yet another of Michel’s lovers was Pidoux’s wife, Marie, now languishing in a swanky Swiss rest home for the nervously dehabilitated, the Clinique des Amandiers, near Lausanne. (The part of Marie is supposedly played by Catherine Arditi, but any appearance she made on screen is so fleeting that I missed it. It may have been left on the cutting-room floor.)

Central to everything is gambling—several characters are addicts—and in particular the gambling cellar called Nuit d’Or. The club’s proprietor is likewise called Nuit d’Or (Ronet), and it’s easy to suspect that he might in reality be the Devil; certainly there’s a great deal of the mephistophelean in the way he sardonically disses some of his clients, including Pidoux, Michel and the over-the-hill actor Charron (Bussières).

Raymond Bussières as the gambler Charron.

Michel abducts Catherine and they go on the run. At first Catherine thinks this is all a great adventure, but in due course she becomes frightened and wants nothing more than to go home to Mommy . . .

Elisabeth Flickenschildt as Anna Fournier.

This is a very stylish movie in the French manner, and full of odd little quirks that don’t seem to have much purpose yet are somehow pleasing nonetheless. I don’t know, for example, why it seemed to the moviemakers like a good idea that Michel’s mother, Anna, should be a sort of compulsive polyglot, the sentences of her dialogue alternating regularly between French, German and English, but it adds inexplicably to Nuit d’Or’s charm. The portrayal of Michel as a dashingly handsome romantic hero, despite being played by Klaus Kinski—at one point the genuinely lovely Véronique/Marie Dubois even tells him he’s “beautiful”—is another oddity that should grate but doesn’t.

Maurice Ronet as Nuit d’Or.

Talking of beautiful, that parenthetical comment about Valérie Pascale later being crowned Miss France isn’t a joke: she was, in 1986. (Her mother, actress Danik Patisson, was another Miss France.) Pascale wasn’t just a cute kid as an eight-year-old but a pretty good little actress: she’s entirely convincing as the rather earnest, intelligent and genuinely plucky Catherine. This was her first movie of a surprisingly scant screen career.

Valérie Pascale as Catherine.

Overall, Nuit d’Or has a great cast and is visually splendid—I especially liked its frequent use of soft, washed-out color. It’s one of those movies that should be better known.

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3 thoughts on “Nuit d’Or (1976)

    • Fingers crossed it comes your way, Jacqui, and that you enjoy it when it does. I found myself for some reason a tad reluctant to take it on, thoroughly enjoyed it when I finally did so, and since then have discovered it’s worked its way under my skin, so to speak.

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