The cause of the movie is the murder. The purpose of the movie is to look closely at Michel Descombes, the father. The Clockmaker (l'Horloger de Saint-Paul) is not a murder mystery. Were it not for the skills of Bertrand Tavernier and his frequent lead actor, Philippe Noiret, we might be in for a long, introspective slog full of what it means to be a solitary human being. With these two, and with Jean Rochefort as Inspector Guilboud, we have a movie that explores loneliness, friendship and, eventually, understanding with a good deal of depth and style.
Descombes is a self-contained man, friendly enough, probably what he thought of as a reasonably good parent, but not an especially happy man. "You're a widower?" a policeman asks.
"No, not exactly," Descombes says. "We were already separated. I guess I am a widower. I was just as miserable as one."
Descombes struggles to understand his young son. Inspector Guilboud struggles to understand the son's motive, and then to understand the father. The more they learn, however, the more the fact of the matter stays the same; the son murdered a man. "I killed him because he was filth," Bernard Descombes eventually declares. Guilboud finds some empathy with Descombes. Even so, Descombes' son will be caught. "France is a funny country," Guilboud says. "Fifty-million inhabitants, twenty million informants." Descombes' son seems to represent more than just another murderer to Guilboud, a man with his own issues. He may see something of himself in Descombes. It is Descombes, however, who has to make the hardest journey, to try to understand who his son is.
The Clockmaker turns out to be one of the most interesting of the collaborations between Tavernier and Noiret, even with the now dull political subtext of complacent and suffocating French society. Still, the movie was made in 1974, an uneasy period. The movie finds itself, however, and the last twenty minutes are powerful minutes. "I stand by my son...in complete solidarity." Without Noiret, this movie would not have worked at all well. With Noiret and Rochefort, it works very well.
The DVD transfer by Kino is inexcusably poor, with a cropped, fuzzy, dark picture and poor color hues. The subtitles are yellow with black edging and are easy to read. There are no extras.
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