Sunday 10 March 2013

Le Roman d'un Tricheur (1936)

En Svindlers Roman
Sometimes when I watch particular movies I get the feeling that I am dealing with a big ego. A friendly person might call this kind of person an auteur (curious that it is the French term which is used). A less friendly one would call such a person a pain in the ass.

“Le Roman d'un Tricheur” is such a movie and Sacha Guitry I sense is such a person. When you see that he directed the movie starring himself, based it on his own book and with hardly any dialogue but his own narration and add to that the smug tone of the film, well, this is not a person who is trying to hide his talents. So, I guess the opinion to the film will very much depend on how you feel about such an ego.

Whether you like the movie or not it is obvious that several later directors and films owe a lot to “Le Roman d'un Tricheur”. Anybody who has seen the films of Jean Pierre Jeunet will recognize the style of the narrator who describes the situation with the dispassionate voice and detail of a police report, which become amusing as the story told is rather far-fetched. Think “Amelie” and “Delicatessen”, those rely heavily on the same style of narration.  Another example is “Forrest Gump”. Like in “Forrest Gump” the narrator himself is sitting down (in a café) telling his life story, sometimes to his book and sometimes to the random listener. In this way the story becomes a series of flashbacks anchored in the “present”. The similarities do not stop there. Like “Forrest Gump” the story of The Cheat (yup, that is all the name we get) is an incredible one that partly take us through a number of world history events and places the character more or less unwittingly in crucial positions from which he luckily emerge unscathed. I do not think I would call life in Monte Carlo a world event, but it places him in a position to describe the decadent life there from a unique point of view. Also one of his women (there are a few) show up in the “present” as a blast from the past in a curious twist of events.

Robert Zemeckis must have seen “Le Roman d'un Tricheur” more than once.

In the light of such future events it is interesting to watch “Le Roman d'un Tricheur”. However on its own there are some problems. Beside the blatant ego behind it I have some problems with the point of the storyline.

As far as I can determine the storyline is a discussion of whether it pays off to be honest or if we might be better off being dishonest. From the beginning we get the impression that the narrator believes that the unhappy things that happen to him such as the death of his entire family from mushroom poisoning is due to him being honest, while the fact that he survives them is that he is being dishonest. Frankly I cannot keep track on when he is honest and dishonest and when he benefits from it or not. He seems to decide at some point that he might as well be dishonest and so become a card cheat with great success. When an encounter with his former comrade-in-arms turns him into an honest gambler he loses all again. I am a bit confused.

This confusion extends to his romantic affairs. One woman is a professional thief from whom he runs away before he gets himself too involved. Another is a wannabe cheat with whom he marry, yet escapes from when their scheme fails. These two women he meets later at the casino while he himself is in disguise busy robbing the bank. The result of the encounter is that he split his winnings that evening with them and sleeps with his wife still in disguise. That is it. A third woman is an older baroness he meets as a young bellboy at the hotel where he is working. While he is madly in love with her back then he does not want to be recognized by her when she shows up in the present. Why not? When she does recognize him, which she does because he gives back the watch she once gave him he squirms and seem to prefer to be somewhere else. So, he loved these women in the past tense but avoid them in the present. Why?

A clue may be that he sees the fraud of his past as a vice that he is now cured from (he has taken the job as responsible for security at the casino) and so he distances himself from his past life and the women in it. Yet he does not sound particularly remorseful when he describes his past life. In fact it seems like he had a blast.

So, I do not really “get” the point of the movie. That leaves me with a bit of an empty feeling. It is as if some 10-15 minutes of the storyline that would help explain what it really is he is trying to say has bet cut away.

Maybe it is that he all his life has been flirting with dishonesty, but always turned honest before he burned himself seriously? Perhaps. In the lack of a better explanation I will let that stand for now.

Maybe this is just another auteur movie where the point is lost behind the bloated ego of the filmmaker.


  1. I expect Guitry would have considered himself an auteur. His films are quirky and so very French.

    1. I have not seen any other films by him, but if this one is representative for the rest I agree with you. It is a very personal style and rather selfcentered.