April 9, 2008
Une Sale histoire, 1977
Composed of two separate, near verbatim vignettes - alternately framed as a documentary, then as fiction film - Une Sale histoire is told from the perspective of a recovering peeping tom who tells his sordid tale of voyeuristic obsession before an intimate, predominantly female audience. In the first part, the spatial relation between the speaker, played by actor Michael Lonsdale, and the listener, played by film critic Jean Douchet - a distance that is reinforced by the latter's invitation to sit on a couch to tell his story - suggests the role of subject and interviewer (or perhaps, patient and analyst), as the glib, animated speaker recounts his accidental discovery of a cleverly concealed (and intentionally created) gap in the doorway of the ladies' room while using the public telephone of a local bistro, and the figurative Pandora's box that his newfound secret, erotic gateway unleashes in his quest to find the perfect woman whose physical appearance complemented the images created by his aroused fantasies. In the second part, the deliberation and exactness of the speaker, this time, played by the author of the story, Jean-Noël Picq, suggests a formal re-enactment of the earlier "interview" - the staging of a non-fiction fiction. Upending conventional roles by casting actor as storyteller (Lonsdale) and storyteller as actor (Picq), Jean Eustache creates a radical and intriguing exposition into the nature of narrative and performance itself, proposing that the boundaries of filmmaking do not exist between reality and fiction, but within layers and permutations of equally modulated fiction.