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  • In the 60's, director Jean-Pierre Mocky shot several wonderful movies before his inspiration decreased in the 80's and 90's, leading him to cheaper and cheaper productions (in spite of a recent surge). In "La Cité de l'indicible peur", he's at the top of his game, with this very subversive production. French comedian Bourvil is a police inspector who trails a counterfeiter and spends several days in a small rural town, where you'll find one policeman, one butcher, one doctor, one chemist, and so on. And, supposedly, one bald, hard-drinking, cold-sensitive, cassoulet hating, murdering counterfeiter.

    Needless to say, this investigation turns out to be a McGuffin or a red herring to a string of strange events in the town of Barges (also French for "loonies"). A killing beast roams at night, mannequins of the local saint lower hatchets and half printed banknotes go with the wind. Bourvil is perfectly cast as a good-willing and clueless investigator and the supporting characters are at least as interesting as his. What makes the movie works is that Mocky always manages to draw a thin line between iron-fisted anarchy and empathy towards his characters. At the beginning of the movie, Bourvil is put in charge of the investigation by a chief who turns out to be his own uncle, an apparently authoritative figure. At the end of the scene, when he's alone, you notice that the uncle is actually a diminutive man who climbs on a stool to look more impressive. This is the kind of slight touches that fill the entire movie.

    One close relative to "La Cité de l'indicible peur" would be the "Twin Peaks" TV show. Actually, the movie forecasts the mood of "Twin Peaks" with a much lighter tone.
  • dbdumonteil4 September 2014
    A note about Belgian Jean Ray,who wrote " La Cité De l'Indicible Peur".His most famous works were the adventures of private detective Harry Dickson -that could make a wonderful TV series -and "Malpertuis" ,transferred to the screen in 1971.Ray's universe is horror,terror and if his explanations often dissatisfy,being too far-fetched,they sustain the reader's interest .

    Fact :Mocky was told his original title was not commercial enough ,and he was ordered to change it for "La Grande Frousse" (the big fright);later he bought it back and re-edited it .

    Nevertheless,he did not really capture Ray's atmosphere ;it is a burlesque farce ,which may be off-putting for the writer's fans .The precedent user hinted at "twion peaks" but actually,there are echoes of Prévert/Carné's "Drôle De Drame" (1937).

    The choice of Bourvil might seem amazing but not only the actor made several movies with the director,he also produced the movie (Raimbourg is Bourvil's name) .Bourvil is cast as a not-so-smart detective but there's a curious alienation effect and the viewer sees him in a different light ;some well-known actors such as Raymond Rouleau,Jean-Louis Barrault (star of the aforementioned "Drole De Drame") Jean Poiret or venerable Victor Francen seem almost disturbing,under a simple geniality.

    The settings and the lightings are stunning and the atmosphere of a town from the Middle-Ages is perfectly captured .But if Mocky claims Ray's original title ,there is a contradiction:the writer's terrifying tales were not black humor (one of the Ray's weaknesses is his total lack of humor)and Mocky's lines are not really up to scratch anyway.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Thanks to a last-minute technical problem, a dangerous and violent forger escapes execution by the guillotine. In fact he escapes so thoroughly that he disappears completely. A police inspector sent to catch the fugitive arrives in what seems like a pleasant old town. Much to his surprise, he discovers that the whole town lives in fear, since it believes it is being attacked by an ancient monster...

    "La grande frousse" lies at the crossroads between various genres : thriller, comedy and fantasy/horror. It's a very unusual work with a uniquely poetic and dreamlike quality.

    As a movie, it too disjointed, whimsical and uneven to be a success, but at least it's an interesting failure which delivers some memorably surreal moments. The cast is good and one rather gets the impression that the various actors liked the opportunity to play a truly weird or eccentric character.

    The movie is based on a novel by Raymond Jean de Kremer, who was a compatriot of mine. (I've never read the novel, but I'm familiar with a lot of his other work.) De Kremer, who was blessed with the gift of tongues, wrote both in Dutch and in French, under a variety of pseudonyms such as "John Flanders" or "Jean Ray". As a prolific author he wrote his share of drivel, but his best work, such as "Malpertuis", is seriously psychedelic, unsettling or macabre.

    Raymond Jean de Kremer seems to have led an unusually interesting life, although he was so good at spinning tales that even professional historians find it difficult to separate fact from fiction. If you like the horror/fantasy genre and if you are interested in learning Dutch or French, you can do worse than read some of his work.