6 October 2007 | dbdumonteil
In cold blood
René Allio was certainly one of the most overlooked French directors."Moi Pierre Rivière" is his towering achievement but do not miss his earlier works such as "La Vieille Dame Indigne" ,based on a Brecht short story.
"Moi Pierre Rivière " could be subtitled "anatomy of a murder".It's a true story which happened in the rural Normandie in the nineteenth century but anyway ,those peasants ,anyone who has read Maupassant's short stories or Zola's "La Terre" already knew them.
Pierre Rivière cut the throat of his mother, his brother and his sister and is waiting for his trial.In the meanwhile,he writes a manuscript where he tells the whole story.Witnesses appear too and tell the story as they've seen it.
Allio's treatment is anything but derivative.Sometimes Bressonesque (his major influence) with his use of non-professionals actors for his peasants ,and their neuter voices ,with something borrowed from Truffaut's "L'Enfant Sauvage" (1970) -screenplay entirely based on historical documents-.
Pierre is a complex character,whose behavior thoroughly eludes the viewer.He sees his father,a crude uneducated meek man humiliated and harassed by a shrew of a mother,who always lets him down after she's taken everything she can steal.Probably under an over-possessive mother's thumb,this woman does not want to share her husband's home.
Pierre's report is stunning: the style is perfect,using a very refined French,most of the verbs in the past historic(Passé Simple) a tense which increases the distance between Pierre and the events he depicts.He even uses the subjunctive imperfect,a tense only an educated person can know.Pierre is an enigma to the world:how a boy who was nurtured in such a demeaning milieu can he be able to write like this?He bought a book ,some kind of mini-encyclopedia where he found subjects (Napoleon,Indians) which fueled his misogyny.
Is he a lunatic? Certainly not in the way the doctor thinks he is during the trial.The fact Pierre refers to Abraham and the "God told me to do that" thing are not surprising,coming from a country boy,at a time when religion verged on superstition .I think that Pierre cannot stand his father's passiveness.He needs an outlet: crucifying a frog or squashing a bird between two stones are first attempts at a murder.Hate ,anger and frustration are in him and won't live him alone.One day animals are not enough:the saucy song (which we can hear twice) sung by the neighbor about his dad ,it's this which sparks off the incident or should I say the tragedy.
They are three dead bodies in the kitchen,lying in a pool of their blood. A boy is running across the country thinking "what have I done?" and putting his trust in God,cause he gave his life in sacrifice so the others (his father,his grandmother ,his other brothers) could survive. He still do not know whether he'll be sentenced to death when he's arrested,but he knows that he is dead anyway.
This is a slow moving movie,not exactly an accessible one;but it's a demanding one,and one that will reward you if you give it a chance.