The Axe

The Axe

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Back in the late Eighties and Nineties, when the UK was facing growing unemployment and downsizing, filmmakers tackled the subject with a good dose of humour, through the likes of The Full Monty and Brassed Off. Watching some of the films at this year’s French Film Festival, it seems the subject of job losses is a current preoccupation over the Channel, but the humour of Le Couperet (The Axe) has an inky blackness that’s a far cry from working men stripping.

Bruno Davert (José Garcia) is a paper engineer, left job hunting after his firm downsizes and relocates. Since unemployment is high, he is becoming increasingly dispirited after two years’ of knockbacks and when we meet him his marriage is on the rocks and he’s in the process of deliberately killing a man. It seems that some jobs are just to die for in France.

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Garcia is excellent as a man pushed so close to the limit by stress that collating a list of people likely to be hired before him at interview and bumping them off one by one seems like a natural solution to all his problems. There is a grim message about man and murder but it is wrapped up in such delicious dark humour – occasionally bordering on fine farce – that it is a far from bitter pill to swallow.

Some of the plot elements are a little derivative, but they steer away from cliché and parody. Garcia – reminiscent of a young Jack Lemmon - puts the hang into dog perfectly and the script, which doubtless owes much to the Donald E Westlake book on which it is based, will bite your arm off. So as Bruno contemplates his victim’s he says things such as: “He was Belgian, I thought that would make it easier.” Or – after finding himself unfortunately engaged in conversation with one of his ‘hits’: “I had to end our chat to protect my mental health.”

Also excellent is Karin Viard as Bruno's long-suffering wife Marlène. Despite the part being light on detail, she makes a lot of a little, perfectly capturing the conflict of emotion that sometimes comes in a long-term relationship as she struggles to keep money coming in and to salvage her marriage, totally oblivious to her husband’s new found hobby.

The direction is engaging, without being overly showy, putting one in mind of classic Seventies-style thrillers with the emphasis on character not effects. Costa-Gravas neatly puts us in Bruno's shoes, using some excellent point of view shots to make us complicit in his murders and making us root for him, despite our better judgment. You’ll never look at a job advertisement in the same way again.

Reviewed on: 19 Apr 2007
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The Axe packshot
It's murder to find a job in France.

Director: Costa-Gavras

Writer: Costa-Gavras, Jean-Claude Grumberg, based on the novel by Donald E Westlake,

Starring: José Garcia, Karin Viard, Geordy Monfils, Christa Theret, Ulrich Tukur, Olivier Gourmet, Yvon Back, Thierry Hancisse, Olga Grumberg, Yolande Moreau, Dieudonné Kabongo

Year: 2005

Runtime: 122 minutes

Country: Belgium, France, Spain

Festivals:

French 2007

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