Tag Archives: Maigret tend un piège

Maigret et l’affaire St. Fiacre (Jean Delannoy, France, 1959)

maigret

 

Gabin returns as Maigret, this time in a nostalgic vein. The countess of St. Fiacre (Valentine Tessier) has received a death threats stating she will die on Ash Wednesday. She calls upon Maigret to return to the village where he grew up and help her with the case. Maigret had a crush on the Countess as a young boy, and the Countess, a warm-hearted woman, enjoyed being the object of it. Maigret ´s father had once managed the Chateau where he will now be a guest and indeed he´s got the Countess to thank for his education. There´s a real fondness and complicity on the ride from the train station to the Chateau between the characters and indeed the actors playing them. It´s lovely.

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The gathering of the suspects à la Poirot

The Countess dies as advertised, in Church, and during Mass no less. But who did it and how? There are lots of suspects: Lucien Sabatier ( Robert Hirsch), a young secretary and confidante gave her an injection the night before and he´s been trying to buy a flat in order to get married and needs money, the young Count (Michel Auclair) has been buying yachts and horses in Paris with money he doesn´t have and he´s being hounded for writing false checks; the village Doctor (Paul Frankeur) hasn´t been taking very good care of her. Many people have their reasons. At the end Maigret does a Poirot, gathers all the suspects for dinner at the Chateau, and reveals who the culprit is.

A slight but very satisfying film, well if unexcitingly directed by Delannoy. Much of the beginning is infused with nostalgia. We get a lovely feel for village life and how it´s changed. Structurally this is developed through a homology between the altar boy and Maigret who used to fulfil the same function in the same place when young. This is also developed by Maigret recognising all the villagers he once new and who tend to recognise him only once they clock his blue eyes (see below). The screenplay is very tightly structured so for example his visit to the Caretaker who has replaced his father in post takes place almost exactly half-way through the film. He also learns that the education of this caretaker´s son has been provided by the Countess, just as she had done for Maigret himself when he was young, and this other homology rhymes and differs with that of the altarboy. We will see that this young bank clerk is no angel. This is a tightly and well-structured film.

It is also a gently paced one, but the pace well seasoned by a sprinkling of suspicion over practically everyone. Everything is seen through corners, doorways and passageways (see above),  through the corner of an eye, generally Miagret´s. Thus the film shows clues as partial whilst making everything suspiciously interesting, particularly when the corpse is still upstairs, and parts of it remain visible in the corner of the shot during questioning.

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Maigret´s eye of course is observant. And Gabin´s eyes are not only blue, but completely transparent. A look, a shrug, a curt coded phrase. He doesn´t say much but he communicates everything. Perhaps Gabin is at his very greatest in these slight genre pieces where it´s his presence alone that warrants reasons for viewing.

Delannoy doesn´t dazzle visually. He tend towards triangular compositions and, with a few exceptions, one of which you can see below, keeps the symbolism largely at bay.

As you can see from the clip below, Delannoy does know how to film dynamically to keep the image interesting. Here Maigret moves through the newspaper printing presses though to the offices. It´s quite a lot of time to devote to the scene in terms of its import to the plotas a whole. And it´s clear that Delannoy is merely taking pleasure in showing us the workings of the newspaper. And I´m reproducing it here because it induced nostalgia in me. This is how many people even a village paper employed. Look at all the jobs in soldering, laying out the print, typesetting, printing and distribution. Not so long ago all papers functioned this way, and the larger ones, like the Montreal Star I visited as a child,  were an industrial marvel to behold.  Ahhh. It´s a minor, well-made film that incites all kinds of nostalgia. Gabin is perfect

 

I have written on two other Maigret/ Gabin films here:

-the previous one with Delannoy:

Maigret tend un piège/ Inspector Maigret (Jean Delannoy, France/Italy 1958)

And a later one directed by Gilles Grangier:

Maigret voit rouge (Gilles Grangier, France/Italy, 1963)

José Arroyo

Maigret tend un piège/ Inspector Maigret (Jean Delannoy, France/Italy 1958)

 

 

I love the Maigret films; they offer the double satisfaction of thrilling you with some of the worst humanity has to offer – though usefully shown tastefully – and then restoring order; moreover, that rebalancing is itself done in an orderly and systematic manner; one we’ve learned to know and enjoy playing along with.

In this one, Gabin’s first outing in the role, (he would inhabit it twice more, reunited with director Jean Delannoy in Maigret et l’affaire Saint-Fiacre / Maigret and the St. Fiacre Case (1959) and Maigret voit rouge/ Maigret Sees Red, (Gilles Grangier, 1963), the first images we see are a knife being thrown right into the heart of Paris, then we’re shown the shadow of a pipe in close-up (see below). It seems to me that those images, which start the film, embody the appeal of this type of detective film: violence at the heart of a community and threatening to rip it apart and then the cozy comfort of a pipe, with its suggestions of pensiveness, its indication that brains will win over brawn, that reason will transform chaos into order, that homeliness will be restored. These films do not disown the animal, the emotional and sexual impulses, but they’re always the source of the crime. Intelligence and thought are the way to remove such unruly impulses from social structures: the films are a paean to reason. If Maigret sets his traps correctly, the killer will be caught.

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The murderer’s always hidden, filmed partially or from behind, or, like here, in shadows

Maigret tend un piège starts at Place des Vosges, in the Marais district. It’s set in the film’s present but it already has a nostalgic tone. The Place des Vosges has a butcher shop, ladies knit and chat with their neighbours outside their flats, everyone seems to know each other. Then, we’re introduced to a young woman returning from work, a violinist, husband at the café, child asleep upstairs. Of course, she’s murdered. Typically, we’re not shown who’s done it. We see only a gesture of gloved hands re-arranging a belt: a gesture that will prove telling. Then, again, in typical fashion, Maigret is called for (anonymously), we’re introduced to the basics of the case (a serial killer on the loose in the Marais, one who’s already committed four crimes, and is after the same type of woman), and then we’re introduced to the main character (Maigret is longing to retire, we’re made to think he’s alone but then a wife is introduced; he’s got a whole corner display case on top of a cabinet to hold his many pipes, they’ve built a house in the country in the village his wife’s from – this is a film that assumes Parisians have strong links to rural areas); lastly the suspects are introduced one by one, as one by one suspicion is removed until the real killer is found.

 

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A typical moment of humour: ‘Gorilla’ Lino Ventura gets thrown over the shoulder by a woman training to become one of Maigret’s traps

One of the wonderful things about the Simenon films, and true also of this adaptation is how tightly plotted they are. So here for example, the first suspect is Barbereau (Alfred Adam). He’s married to Louise (Jean Boitel) who had an affair with the previous owner of the butcher shop and is thus resented by his widow Adèle (Lucienne Bogaert), and the son Marcel (Jean Desailly). Marcel is married to Yvonne (Annie Girardot), just the type the serial killer’s been murdered. Marcel will be a suspect; Yvonne will be both a suspect and a potential victim. But who has access to Barbereau’s butcher shop? Everything is neatly tied together.

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Gabin’s every expression is a joy

The film offers many pleasures: the depiction of milieu, the tight plotting, the way the narrative is constantly interspersed by comic bits (I particularly love Guy Decomble, whom you might remember as the exasperated schoolteacher in Les quatre cent coups/ The Four Hundred Blows (François Truffaut, 1959),  ‘performing’ a phony suspect for the waiting press) , Lino Ventura as Maigret’s sidekick, Annie Girardot. But above all there’s Jean Gabin. I don’t know if it’s due to his training in the music hall but he makes everything interesting. He’s on, never overdoes it, but every little gesture, every response, even the act of listening is rendered worth watching. There’s a lovely moment, where he’s at home, tired and wiggles his pudgy middle-aged toes that I think his symptomatic. He conveys the character’s feeling but also gives the audience a flourish; he knows we’re watching and wants to give us something extra. It’s expressive and endearing.

Maigret tend un piège  is a well-paced film. Delannoy keeps the camera in constant motion in a way that is unobstrusive yet creates a flow. On the other hand, everything seems to be shot with the camera at eye-level, which I can’t quite figure out as I suspect some of the scenes might have been more dramatic with more variation in angles.

 

Spoilers Ahead

 

What bothers me most about the film is that what initially seems the casual sexism of the period turns into something more vicious by the end. There’s a scene when one of the suspects, a cabaret entertainer, is at home drinking tea and his girlfriend appears from the shower to show her breasts to the audience and one thinks ‘oh French cinema was so advanced!’ But later we learn how the killer is coded as being homosexual (he’s never had sex with his wife in all the years they’ve been married. It’s what drove her into the arms of the dancer and later to murder; moreover, it’s all the fault of his mother. If she hadn’t driven him to paint and play sonatas, he might have ended up a normal boy, who didn’t kill women because he couldn’t get it up for them. These films, striving, as they do to reassert social order are also quick at removing any kind of otherness. They’re inherently conservative. I don’t generally mind. But I did here.

 

José Arroyo