Thursday, March 05, 2015

Elevator to the Gallows

Based on the novel by Noel Calef, Ascenseur pour l’echafaud (Elevator to the Gallows) is the story of criminal lovers who commit the perfect crime until one of them is stuck inside an elevator. Directed by Louis Malle and screenplay by Malle and Roger Nimier, the film is an exploration into the world of crime from the perspective of two lovers as it is considered one of the early gems of the French New Wave. Starring Jeanne Moreau, Maurice Ronet, Georges Poujouly, Yori Bertin, Jean Wall, Ivan Petrovich, Felix Marten, and Lino Ventura. Ascenseur pour l’echafaud is a riveting and enjoyable film from Louis Malle.

Set during a 24-hour period on a weekend in Paris, the film revolves around two lovers who commit the perfect crime as everything goes smoothly until the man forgets something where he finds himself stuck in an elevator where the power had gone off. The film isn’t just about the crime as it happens but what happens afterwards where this man is stuck inside the elevator while his lover is waiting around as she suspects that he probably didn’t do it or something else had happened. One of which involves his car being stolen by a young man and his girlfriend who also create trouble as it plays into the idea of lovers committing crime and the chaos that ensues. The film’s screenplay plays into these different storylines where it begins with a phone conversation between Florence Carala (Jeanne Moreau) and her lover Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet) about the plan to kill Florence’s husband Simon (Jean Wall) who is also Julien’s boss.

Everything does go well in all of its details as Tavernier was once a member of the foreign legion yet a simple mistake in leaving out a piece of evidence would force him to try and rectify it only for everything to go wrong. Since he is stuck inside the elevator, he is forced to realized that he left his car running prompting Louis (Georges Poujouly) to steal with a flower shop girl named Veronique (Yori Bertin) joining him as they would have their own adventure. Throughout the entirety of the film, Florence waits for Tavernier as she ponders about his whereabouts as she also suspects that he is cheating on her with Veronique as she saw Veronique in his car. The storyline involving Louis and Veronique would have them go on this joyride until they encounter this German couple with a Mercedes as it starts off well and then things go wrong. It leads into this third act into not just about the world of crime but also its impact and implications where four people find themselves in the wrong place and at the wrong time.

Louis Malle’s direction is very mesmerizing for the way he presents the crime as it takes place as there’s no need for any exposition or back-story about Florence and Tavernier as he just starts off with the crime itself. The direction is quite stylish in not just Malle’s approach to camera angles but also in how he maintains an intimacy in the scenes where Tavernier is stuck inside the elevator as he tries to find a way to get out. There is an element of claustrophobia in those scenes while there’s a moment where Tavernier tries to get out of the elevator from its bottom hatch to see how far up he’s in as it is one of the film’s intense moments.

Malle’s usage of close-ups are very effective as it plays into Florence’s own journey as she walks around Paris wondering where is Tavernier as it features some voiceover narration as she expresses her own thoughts. The close-ups and medium shots also play into Louis and Veronique’s own adventure as it is quite comical at times but also very somber as it express their own sense of uncertainty and aimlessness about their future. The film’s third act not only plays into the aftermath of these events but also this race into any chance of hope for any of these characters as it would follow with a really great ending. Overall, Malle creates a very smart and captivating film about a perfect crime gone wrong.

Cinematographer Henri Dacae does brilliant work with the film‘s black-and-white photography to create moods with some of the scenes inside the elevator as well as the building plus creating some unique lighting schemes for the exterior scenes in Paris for day and night. Editor Leonide Azar does amazing work with the editing with its stylish approach to rhythmic cuts and dissolves as it plays into the suspense and drama. Art directors Jean Mandaroux and Rino Mondellini do excellent work with the look of the elevator and its shaft as well as the motel that Louis and Veronique would stay in. The sound work of Raymond Gauguier is terrific as it‘s very sparse while not playing to conventions in terms of some of the suspenseful moments in the film. The film’s music by Miles Davis is fantastic as it’s essentially a jazz-based score with some thrilling trumpet work from Davis as well as some upbeat pieces and some mid-tempo cuts that play into Florence’s own journey.

The film’s cast include small performances from Jean-Claude Brialy as a chess player at the motel, Micheline Bona as a secretary that Tavernier works with, Sylviane Aisenstein as a woman at a bar Florence meets, Jean Wall as Florence’s husband, Ivan Petrovich and Elga Andersen as the German couple Louis and Veronique meet, and Lino Ventura as a police inspector who tries to solve the case that happened in the film’s third act. Yori Bertin is wonderful as Veronique as a young woman who has a crush of sorts on Tavernier as she tries to get Louis to stop doing things while having some fun with the Germans as she copes with the actions later in the film.

Georges Poujouly is excellent as the sullen Louis as a young man trying to cope with his own growing pains as well as his uncertainty in his future as he turns to crime. Maurice Ronet is superb as Julien Tavernier as a former foreign legion soldier who is asked by Florence to kill her husband as he copes with not just the severity of his situation but also in its aftermath. Finally, there’s Jeanne Moreau in a remarkable performance as Florence Carala as this woman who asks her lover to kill her husband as she ponders if he had done the job as she wanders around Paris aimlessly as it’s a very radiant and entrancing performance from the actress.

Ascenseur pour l’echafaud is a phenomenal film from Louis Malle that features a true breakthrough performance from Jeanne Moreau. The film isn’t just one of the finest debut features ever made by a director but also one of the key films of the French New Wave in its approach to style as well as telling a story in the most unconventional fashion. In the end, Ascenseur pour l’echafaud is a sensational film from Louis Malle.

Louis Malle Films: (The Silent World) - The Lovers (1958 film) - Zazie dans le metro - (A Very Private Affair) - (Vive Le Tour) - The Fire Within - (Bons baisers de Bangkok) - (Viva Maria!) - (The Thief of Paris) - Spirits of the Dead-William Wilson - (Phantom India) - (Calcutta) - Murmur of the Heart - (Humain, Trop Humain) - Lacombe, Lucien - Place de la Republique - Black Moon - (Close Up (1976 short) - (Dominique Sanda ou Le reve eveille) - Pretty Baby - Atlantic City (1980 film) - (My Dinner with Andre) - Crackers - God’s Country (1985 film) - (Alamo Bay) - (And the Pursuit of Happiness) - Au Revoir Les Enfants - (May Fools) - (Damage (1992 film)) - (Vanya on 42nd Street)

© thevoid99 2015


Anonymous said...

Wonderful review! Love this film, and Jeanne Moreau's performance is electrifying!

thevoid99 said...

I was amazed at how good it was and man, Moreau was gorgeous. I heard that the reason she wasn't hired in films immediately because she wasn't someone like a Brigitte Bardot or something. Well, Malle disproved that and more.