And Hope To Die

And Hope To Die

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

One of a handful of titles enjoying a re-release to celebrate the centenary of director René Clément's birth, And Hope To Die is a mind-bender of a film that loops its characters' past into their present or, if you choose to read it another way, loops their future into their present.

Although based on the novel by David Goodis, the film begins with a shot of a mirrored wardrobe being carried into a shop, an undoubted allusion to Alice's Looking Glass along with the Cheshire Cat grinning from ear to ear in the shop window and the intertitle quote from Lewis Carroll's Looking Glass prologue - "We are all but older children, dear, Who fret to find our bedtime near". Even the film's French title, which translates as The Hares Race Through The Fields, recalls the White Rabbit. Whether the film goes on to depict children imagining themselves as adults or adults recalling fragments of their childhood is largely immaterial, what is important is the way Clément and screenwriter Sébastien Japrisot suggest our youthful attitudes and appetites permeate our lives to come.

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Bookended by children playing, the majority of the action concerns Tony (Amour's Jean-Louis Trintignant, in his sex-pot days), who we meet as he is being hunted by a pair of "gypsies". There's a whiff of the wild west about his encounter, and it marks the first instance of a pan-piped refrain that turns up - complete with flute player - at various later points in the narrative, lending the film a surreal oddness to go with its more familiar crime caper themes. Whether the deed Tony has perpetrated was deliberate or accident, these men are out for blood and, as he flees across the US border into Canada, he inadvertantly stumbles into the scene of another crime, as a man is shot and killed, but not before giving him a wad of notes and whispering the fateful words: "Toboggan committed suicide."

The men at the other end of the fatal bullets, Mattone (Aldo Rey, cast surely for his size rather than his acting ability) and Paul (Daniel Breton) pat him down for the cash, failing to check his crotch hiding place, and waste no time in bundling him into their car and taking him back to their hideout, with one of them badly hurt on way. Here, Tony will meet Charley (Robert Ryan, speaking French throughout but as compelling as ever) as he and his gang plan a heist. Threatening to kill Tony - whom he nicknames "Froggy" - if he doesn't reveal where the cash is, Charley nonetheless gives him a bed, albeit a child's cot. The men proceed to play mind games with one another, while Charley's girlfriend-cum-cook Sugar (Lea Massari) and Paul's sister Pepper (Tisa 'sister of Mia' Farrow) start to think about engaging the newcomer in some altogether more intimate activities. Child-like ideas abound, aside from the Sugar/Pepper name opposition, Sugar mainly cooks the sort of sweet treats kids would think up and, when called upon to recite a prayer, Charley opts for the kid's bedtime standard "Now I lay me down to sleep".

But while these hints of otherworldly fantasy are sewn through the narrative - along with appearances from the film's human equivalent of the White Rabbit - the crime theme, details of which aren't revealed until late in the day, can be taken on its own merits and features a particularly impressive multi-storey break-and-enter scene. If that isn't enough, there are the unsettling, almost subliminal, single frame flashbacks that Tony keeps having about his original 'crime', which also involves, wouldn't you know it, innocent children.

Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice might say. Clément refuses to be rushed and with the runtime breaking the two-hour mark, there are inevitably moments when things drag. The slippery morality of Tony and the older melancholic and reflective Charley are intriguing, however, making the film interesting on a psychological level even when the plot threatens to crumble under the weight of all its themes. As the ever-analytical Charley is wont to ask: "Conclusion?" It's hard to give a final word on the subject, but with all its curiosities and conundrums, if you watch Clément's film once, you'll definitely want to watch it again.

Reviewed on: 11 Jan 2013
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And Hope To Die packshot
A man on the run falls in with a group of criminals.

Director: René Clément

Writer: Sébastien Japrisot, based on Black Friday by David Goodis

Starring: Robert Ryan, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Lea Massari, Tisa Farrow, Aldo Ray, Jean Gaven, Nadine Nabokov, Daniel Breton, Louis Aubert, André Lawrence, Don Arrès

Year: 1972

Runtime: 127 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: France, Italy

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