The Clockmaker

Synopsis

Bertrand Tavernier's debut feature was this expertly crafted adaptation of a Georges Simenon novel. Simenon's American locale is translated to a petit-bourgeois quarter of Lyon (Tavernier's hometown), which Tavernier scans for reverberations of contemporary (1973) French politics. Philippe Noiret gives a strong performance as Descombes, the craftsman of the film's title, whose clockwork existence is shattered by the news that his son has been accused of murdering a factory spy. As the police conduct their investigation of the boy, they might be describing a total stranger; still, Descombes fends off unctuous press, pressing police, and overexcited friends to stand by his son until the end. The Clockmaker follows his transformation from a reclusive, albeit left-wing bourgeois, to an alert thinker and father. Tavernier invests the film with details--from the personal and domestic to the widely cultural—and political observations (a wry detective tells Descombes, "France is peculiar: 50 million inhabitants, 20 million informers"); this perspective combines with Noiret's humbly intelligent performance to strip the film, even in its tenderest moments, of melodrama.

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