Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Fighter (Le battant) (1983)

On the day he gets out of prison, Jacques Darnay (Alain Delon) is looking over his shoulder.  Darnay took the wrap: during a jewel heist eight years previously, the store owner was murdered and a cache of diamonds worth six million francs was stolen.  The police knew that Darnay had an accomplice but could not identify him.  The diamonds were never recovered.  As a result, Darnay served a reduced sentence; and at the start of Le battant (The Fighter) (1983), he is now free.  In the opening scene of the film, one of Darnay’s homies, Mignot (Michel Beaune) gets a visit from three well-dressed assailants who tell him to turn on Darnay or die.  The crooks want the diamonds.  The police inspector, Rouxel (Pierre Mondy), who busted Darnay from the original heist, wants to find Darnay’s accomplice who murdered the store owner.  More importantly, it seems Rouxel also wants to collect the ten-percent finder’s fee for locating the missing diamonds.  If Darnay locates the diamonds, then he is dead.  If he does not, then the people close to him will start dying.  Most interestingly, does Darnay even know where the diamonds are stashed?
Delon plays The Fighter close.  He wants his viewer to feel the desperation of a man constantly looking over his shoulder for an awaiting killer and also wants his viewer question his rationale and motives:  is this desperate life worth all of the trouble?  Darnay sees Mignot soon after his release from prison and within minutes of meeting the man, Mignot is gunned down.  Mignot’s death enforces for Darnay how serious his pursuers are.  Beautiful Clarissa (Marie-Christine Descouard), Darnay’s lover before he went away to prison, accepts Darnay with open arms and no questions asked when he arrives at the doorstep of her flat.  After Mignot’s murder, Darnay tries to hide Clarissa but to no avail:  she dies in Darnay’s arms after getting gunned down.  As Le battant unfolds from this point, it becomes clear to Darnay (and to the viewer) that he can no longer trust anyone and is going to have to kill everyone who stands in his way.

I am a mark for both Alain Delon and gritty Eurocrime flicks.  Delon gives an odd performance as Darnay.  In all of the action sequences, Delon is cold and icy, like the bad motherfucker he played in Tony Arzenta (1973).  However, Darnay is all too eager to crack a joke, most often at the expense of Rouxel.  This blend of black humor and cold violence does not come off like a Fernando di Leo antihero, like Ringo or Johnny Yuma.  Di Leo composed characters who had a death wish and were laughing towards their end.  Delon’s performance of Darnay belies that appearance.  Anne Parillaud appears as Nathalie, who is offered to Darnay for a thousand francs for one evening by his homey in the underworld, Ruggeri (Franςois Périer).  After their bout of lovemaking, Nathalie breaks down to Darnay and begs him to free her from her abusive relationship with Ruggeri.  Darnay agrees and puts her up in a hideout.  Nathalie helps Darnay by identifying the Ruggeri’s accomplices, so Darnay knows exactly who is following him.  It is apparent, however, that Darnay does not trust Nathalie:  she is either still working for Ruggeri or is attempting to get the diamonds for herself.  It is also apparent that Darnay has strong feelings for her and wants to trust her.  This human side to Darnay creates a schism in his character which makes his violent actions more disturbing.  Delon’s Darnay comes off as a very well-composed and violent sociopath.  He is not an antihero but more like a sick person.

Anne Parillaud does not appear in Le battant really until its middle and her inclusion in the film raises its interest.  She stole all of Delon’s thunder in their previous collaboration, Pour la peau d’un flic (1981), and while her character is nowhere as rich as her previous role, Parillaud gives another memorable performance.  She is one of the few actresses who possess both a powerful sensuality combined with, at appropriate times, a complete vulnerability.  Her character, Nathalie, is the most important in the film, as she reveals within Darnay what is important in life.  Finally, it is well worth mentioning, Parillaud has two very lovely nude scenes in the film.  The pacing in The Fighter, clocking in at nearly two hours, is amazingly brisk, fueled by Darnay’s desperation.  The action sequences, save some automobile sequences that are clearly sped up, are extremely well-done.  Delon serves up some serious cold-blooded violence in this one.  Highly recommended for fans of the Eurocrime genre.

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