US / 92 minutes / color / Chapeau, Belladonna Dir: Richard Ledes Pr: René Bastian, Linda Moran, Richard Ledes Scr: Alain Didier-Weill, Richard Ledes Cine: Stephen Kazmierski Cast: Frank Langella, Elliott Gould, Laura Harring, Anabel Sosa, Helen Stenborg, Marion Servole, Edoardo Ballerini, Axel Feldmann, Grégory Ellis.
Jimmy Stephens (Langella) is a “numbers guy” who cooks up over-optimistic financial projections for US energy corporations so that the latter can use these figures in order to exploit developing countries and saddle them with debts they can never afford to repay. Sickened by the practices of the E.N. Corporation, whose habits include slaughtering foreigners who “fail to understand” the merits of having their nations economically ruined, he decides to blow their whole scam wide open—in so doing, of course, signing his own death warrant.
The corporation commissions a hit on him via artist and fixer Teddy (Ballerini), but Jimmy does a deal to postpone the killing by two weeks. During that time he makes his peace with his half-senile mother (Stenborg), his chanteuse girlfriend Eileen (Harring) and the local child whom he and Eileen have taken under their wing, Lila (Sosa). As importantly, he hires by phone—using a voice modulator and the false name John Doe—small-time PI Frank Turlotte (Gould) to follow one Jimmy Stephens (i.e., himself).
There are frequent flashbacks to rural France in 1940, where two small boys, fleeing through the forest from German strafing, encounter a dying man. The older boy, Lulu (Ellis), persuades the younger, Jimmy (Feldmann), to keep going with promises that they’ll eventually reach Salsparello, a place where they’ll be safe and their parents will be restored to them. It soon becomes evident to us that the two boys went their different ways in life, with the dependent Jimmy growing up to be the solid financial analyst Stephens, and Lulu, the steadfast rock, becoming the down-at-heel, somewhat whiny private dick. What Stephens manages to engineer is that Frank renders him the same service which the youthful Frank, Lulu, did for the dying man in the forest: to be his witness as he dies, so that he’ll not die alone and his death will have meaning.
The movie was much disliked by critics who seemingly either expected it to be a corporate-crime thriller, and were baffled when the mystery it was supposedly all about was laid out plainly in the first few minutes, or failed to watch it attentively; an astonishing example of the latter is Stephen Holden’s New York Times review, which is riddled with elementary errors concerning what he (supposedly) saw.
What the movie is actually about is the search to give our deaths, if not also our lives, some meaning; the corporate-crime element of the plot and the commissioning of the hit are merely devices to enable the movie’s real tale to be told. In that aim it succeeds so well, and with such frequent exquisiteness of craft, that I found myself checking and doublechecking to make sure it wasn’t a remake of a French or Italian original.
Langella gives a superb, measured performance, and there’s one that’s almost as good from Gould; also of note are the turns of Stenborg and especially Sosa, as the intelligent child striving to be wise beyond her years.
On Amazon.com: The Caller