30 September 2002 | Oliver_Lenhardt
Lovely, singularly French mystery
Nothing revolutionary here; just impeccably elegant, restrained cinema.
GARDE A VUE is confined almost exclusively to a drab police station, and mostly to one interrogation room, but director Claude Miller (who made the wonderful film THIS SWEET SICKNESS, among others) intercalates spare glimpses of exterior tableaux as minimalist locale scenography. Miller's restraint, especially early on, is breathtaking, and his exquisite handling of the consequently-pivotal interior mise-en-scene makes for captivating viewing.
Lino Ventura is superb as usual, succeeding to legitimize a character that, on paper, is cliche: the laconic, hard-nosed, world-weary homicide detective. Ventura lives the role, making it completely believable, even though the script allows us little access to his inner workings; the film ends at the very moment it appears he will be forced to confront his failure for the first time.
Michel Serrault is equal to the task as the suspected child-killer who shrewdly spars with the single-minded flic. The exchanges between the two are more-often-than-not pregnant with tension and the aura of a constantly metamorphosing playing field for a battle of wits. Serrault's character is by turns deplorably haughty and cunning, and pitiable; then later....
The "message" of GARDE A VUE, if one were to search for one, is a condemnation of police methodology and the kind of pressures that make a cop over-zealous to, if necessary, close cases at the expense of justice. For most of its length though the film shines as nothing more than an exemplar of how to turn a potentially soporific set-bound scenario into a suspenseful drama of the utmost cinematic economy.