Monsieur Hire is an outsider gazing in, his strange world separated from the environment by a neat, inscrutable exterior and cold, bloodless visage. People don't like him and he doesn't like people. He prefers the solitude of his sparse apartment, escaping the scrutiny of the rest of the world to turn the tables, to become the voyeur. From his bedroom window he espies Alice, a paragon of femininity, and watches with longing a world that is almost entirely divorced from his own; a world of beauty, a world of warmth, a world alive.

To say that M. Hire is merely disliked in the neighbourhood is somewhat of an understatement: he's actively loathed. Children batter his door, taunt him and dust him with flour; neighbours avoid him, and the Inspector is sure that he is responsible for the murder of Pierrette Bourgeois, a young girl strangled near to his home.

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As the policeman doggedly trails Hire, so Hire becomes increasingly entranced by Alice, and - after discovering his ceaseless observations - she becomes intrigued by her silent watcher. Outwardly, this is a psychological thriller, a chase to apprehend a killer, but beneath this there is an eloquent questioning of the roles of stalker and subject, and the human tendency to fear the unknown and the different.

Patrice Leconte is an enduring master of French cinema, coaxing the absolute best from well-seasoned players - from Jean Rochefort's standout performance in The Hairdresser's Husband to Daniel Auteil and Vanessa Paradis' unforgettable knife throwing duet in La Fille Sur Le Pont. Monsieur Hire is no different, for while it is shot, scored and written with great talent, it is the central performance of Michel Blanc that drives the film - his laconic portrayal of the socially excluded Parisian tailor deserves to be as well known as that of any other of Leconte's protagonists. The supporting performances of Sandrine Bonnaire, as Alice, the beautiful, calculating antiheroine, and Andre Wilms, as the calmly assured, emotionless Inspector, are similarly excellent in their subtlety and quiet, nuanced actions.

As with Leconte's other films, there is a languid pace and surreal edge to the work, aided by the sinister malevolence of the Michael Nyman score and the sublime use of colour, underlining the sense of an impermeable boundary between the monochrome existence of M. Hire and the radiant living, breathing environment that surrounds him. With every frame we are reminded of how different he is, and of the folly of his endeavours.

Monsieur Hire is a slow, but compelling, vision of an outsider trying desperately to break into the warmth and light of normalcy, exquisitely realised by a superb cast and director.

Reviewed on: 05 May 2006
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A middle-aged outsider becomes obssessed with a woman.
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Director: Patrice Leconte

Writer: Georges Simenon, Patrice Leconte, Patrick Dewolf

Starring: Michel Blanc, Sandrine Bonnaire, Luc Thuillier, Andre Wilms, Eric Berenger, Marielle Berthon, Philippe Dormoy

Year: 1989

Runtime: 81 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France


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