Monsieur Hire, 1989

Patrice Leconte’s Monsieur Hire is a deeply affecting portrait of the dark side of obsession. Monsieur Hire (Michel Blanc) is a lonely, middle-aged tailor who has taken up the rather depraved pastime of watching his beautiful neighbor, Alice (Sandrine Bonnaire). Observing his demeanor, one can hardly call him a voyeur. It is as if he is more intrigued with the idea that she has a life, than what she is actually doing (There is a scene where he steps away from the window at an intimate moment). One stormy evening, she realizes that he is watching her, and the psychological game begins. Meanwhile, a young woman has been murdered, and a taxi driver has seen a nondescript man running toward the courtyard of the apartment complex. The police immediately suspect the inscrutable Monsieur Hire. He is subjected to the humiliating exercise of recreating the eyewitnessed episode in front of his neighbors. He takes solace in Alice, who finally confronts him, but quickly forgives him, and seems to enjoy his company. Can she save him from his loneliness? Can he, at last, find happiness?

Leconte uses extremely wide angles for his character close-ups. Note the high aspect ratio of the subject to the screen. The effect is highly claustrophobic. It is as if we, ourselves, are voyeurs, watching his life unfold (or rather, disintegrate) before us. Perhaps we can see a subtle facial expression amidst his dour countenance that will explain his thoughts… or betray his heart. This technique expounds on the film’s plot: as Monsieur Hire watches Alice, the police and his neighbors watch him. The story illustrates a sad truth: society’s cruelty to people who do not conform. Monsieur Hire is a moving and subtly unsettling film, as profound in its message as it is thoroughly engrossing.

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