Saturday, April 24, 2010

Jean-Claude Roy's L'insolent (1973)

Henry Silva stars in this French crime flick as Ristack aka The Insolent, an American criminal, in Jean-Claude Roy's L'insolent (1973). Silva's character personifies the word with an accompanying performance by the actor well-known for portraying some of the nastiest criminals in eurocrime cinema of the 1970s.
Silva is in a prison cell but not for long. With inhuman strength, he begins to disassemble the steel from the cell's furniture and mold it in his hands. Bending the bars and descending a wet-sheet rope, Silva's Ristack escapes. After a quick police elusion, Ristack holes up with his homie, Marco (Georges Géret), who owns a small cafe. Less than twenty-four hours after busting out of the joint, Ristack is ready to work. He arrives at gentleman's club, The Hippodrome, to see its owner, Milan (André Pousse), and his shady colleagues. The Insolent has a proposition for Milan: a daylight heist of an armored truck with its cargo several hundred pounds of gold. Would Milan be interesting in fronting this perfectly-planned heist, asks Ristack, and providing a fence to move the gold after? Milan agrees and offers to rendez-vous with Ristack and his crew at an isolated villa to trade the gold for hard currency. Ristack with Marco's help assembles a crew of desperate conmen and thieves. At around the halfway mark of L'insolent, the heist is executed and Ristack and company meet Milan for payment. As with most crime cinema in the 1970s, there were only a handful of plots, and with the rare exception (for example, Le cercle rouge (1970), directed by Jean-Pierre Melville) the plots were often the least interesting aspect of the cinema, usually perfunctory and predictable. L'insolent belongs in this majority class; but the devil is in the details; and Roy's flourishes give L'insolent its charm: while the film is set in present day, the overall feel of L'insolent puts it in some other reality. To begin with, the wonderfully ridiculous: while the police detectives later make an appearance in L'insolent, the beat cops take to the scene first after Ristack's escape. While executing an immediate area search from the prison, two cops encounter Silva's character, garbed in mechanic's overalls behind the counter of a gas station. Tersely, Silva resists a shakedown: "I'm only paid to work behind this counter." He hasn't seen anyone come by. When the cops command Ristack to lower the car on the mechanic's lift to have a look inside, they might as well as made a sweet polite request: Silva just gives a stare and says he ain't the mechanic and doesn't have the key to the lift. So much for thorough investigation, as the cops leave without Silva breaking a sweat. The police ineptitude rises to the level of buffoonery in a later scene after Silva's Ristack sets off a chain of explosions in the parked cars in front of The Hippodrome. "Hey, need some help?" asks one of the police officers. "No," says a Hippodrome henchman, "it was just a short circuit. All in hand." "Okay, then. Bye." The inclusion of these beat-cop scenes are somewhat baffling: as plot devices as tension builders, they clearly fail, as it's quite immediate that they're not catching Silva's Ristack or really going to make any progress in an investigation. Perhaps their ineffectuality is a joke on Roy's part, channeling the spirit of his film's title; but their inclusion is too labored to merit just a chuckle. Whatever reason, these scenes aren't grounded in any reality.The Hippodrome, the gentleman's club run by Pousse's Milan, is L'insolent's most indulgent set-piece. Patrons play board games, by rolling ridiculously large dice, with the club's female dancers as game pieces while each of the ladies is scantily-clad in fetish/futuristic garb. The club sequences are too meticulous to be sloughed off as just a gangster's front. Again, perhaps Roy is channeling the spirit of his title, as these scenes are wilfully provocative, providing most of the flesh in the film and the flash. Likewise, these scenes aren't grounded in any reality.

Henry Silva has often portrayed intense characters while giving performances so charged with intensity, the viewer often wonders how he is able to manufacture such. Ristack is plain mean, and Silva is such a badass that when he delivers lines such as, "Tell Milan that last night's events were just an appetizer. The main course is coming," the theatrical, pulpy quality fades away. What's left is Silva being so cool that the viewer wants Ristack to indulge his insolence, grab a machine gun, and create havoc. Unsurprisingly, the heist and the exchange doesn't go as planned, so a bit of revenge on Ristack's part plays out. With no stealth or scheming, Ristack is fueled by anger and determination. Front-door hits and open-and-hostile robberies ensue: not only is Silva's character taking the action to Milan and company, he's throwing it in their faces.
Veteran Pousse as Milan is pretty terrific, as well. His character also has a charming insolent demeanor, totally different from Silva's and unique to him. Director Jean-Claude Roy will more than likely be remembered for his subsequent adult cinema in which actress Brigitte Lahaie delivered some of her most memorable performances (for example in Couple cherche esclave sexuel (1979)). Instead of delivering a perfunctory, gritty, violent crime flick, Roy delivers a perfunctory, playful and weird, violent crime flick with L'insolent. As 70s European crime cinema continues to gain a cult following, certainly Silva fans and eurocrime fans will pull this one out of obscurity.

1 comment:

Samuel Wilson said...

The mere possibility that Henry Silva might be on the level of his work in Fernando di Leo's movies makes me want to see this film. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.