Jacques Audiard

(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

7.2 Read My Lips (2001)
7.3 The Beat That My Heart Skipped (2005)
7.2 A Prophet (2009)
7.0 Dheepan (2015)
7.3 The Sisters Brothers (2018)
6.8 Paris 13th District (2021)

Jacques Audiard (France, 1952), son of screenwriter Michel Audiard, debuted as director with the noir Regarde les Hommes Tomber/ See How They Fall (1994).

Un Heros Tres Discret/ A Self-Made Hero (1996) is an adaptation of the novel by Jean-Francois Deniau about the French resistance in World War II.

The crime thriller Sur mes Levres/ Read My Lips (2001) toys with a protagonist who is both victim, femme fatale, cynical psychotic, ambitious career woman, and innocent willing to risk her life for an outlaw. She is desperately lonely and humiliated, but is also vengeful. The story is basically the story of how she gets morbidly attached to a criminal who represents her first chance to escape her inferiority and isolation. Audiard masterfully fuses Marnie of Hitchcock's Marnie, Patricia of Godard's Bout de Souffle/ Breathless and even Jeff of Hitchcock's Rear Window into one multidimensional but monomaniac woman. It is an amoral story in which theft, deceit, blackmail, betrayal and even torture reward two people who are simply better than the others at committing them. The film feels unfinished, because we are never explained the purpose of the subplot about the middle-aged parole officer.

We see a woman adjusting a hearing aid on her ear. Carla, a very busy receptionist and secretary, gets angry when someone messes up her desk and her chair, and then suddenly she faints. Her boss, assuming that she's stressed, suggests that they hire a helper. She tries to influence the choice of such helper with a preference for a younger man. She is single and not young anymore. A deaf-mute sees her and thinks he recognizes her. She can in fact answer in sign language but rudely pretends she doesn't remember him. She volunteers to babysit a friend's baby: Annie has problems with her husband and confesses that she hasn't had sex in six months. Annie is going out with friends to a salsa club. The following day the employment office sends a young man, Paul, who clearly lies about his skills during the interview. Eventually he admits that he has just been released from jail after two years. We see that he is out on parole. Carla hires him even if he knows nothing of office work and hides from her boss that he's an ex-convict. On his first day of work he is overwhelmed by all the little tasks that Carla teaches him. Carla asks Paul why he was in jail and he candidly confesses that he robbed banks, stole cars, robbed people... but adds that he never killed anyone. She has her own secret: she used to be deaf and is still half-deaf. And tells Paul that her colleagues make fun of her. She knows that they says of her because she can read lips. Carla meets Annie again who tells her that she is having an affair with a man she met at the salsa club and enjoys being treated like a "mindless piece of meat". Carla discovers that Paul sleeps illegally in a closet of the office. She at first gets furious but then she gets him an apartment in a building that is being remodeled and even gives him a cash advance on his salary. Paul misunderstands that she wants sex and suddenly grabs her. She runs away terrified. The following day a colleague, Keller, is rude with Carla, depriving her of a project for which she worked very hard for three years. She asks Paul to steal the project's file from Keller's car. Paul and Carla also arrange for Keller to miss an important meeting, so Carla can be the star of the project. Keller is furious and almost hits Carla, but Carla shows him compromising papers, and forces him to resign from the firm. Carla and Annie attend a friend's party. Everybody is surprised when Paul shows up as Carla's date. She wants her friend to see that her romantic life is not so empty. A stranger shows up at the office asking for Paul. Carla sees that they fight in the bathroom. Paul confesses that he owes a lot of money to a mobster who runs a night-club. Paul meets with the mobster and tells him that he's broke. The mobster asks him to work for free at the night-club. Paul has no choice and decides to quit his job at the office, which greatly upsets Carla. That night her friend Annie asks to use her apartment for a rendezvouz with her lover Richard, another event that upsets her. Paul approaches again Carla and invites to the night-club. She prepares for a romantic date, but instead Paul needs her lip-reading skills. He takes her to the roof, gives her binoculars, asks her to look at a window across the street, and read the lips of the mobster. She proves to him that she can do it. Paul has a plan to rob the mobster. Carla accepts to help him only if he returns to work at the office. Paul has no choice: days at the office and nights at the bar. At night Carla climbs to the roof and deciphers what the mobster is doing. When the firm get into a major problem, Carla sends Paul to beat up the man who causes the problem until he agrees and then Carla can get credit for "convincing" him. They are still just friends but Paul gets jealous one night when he sees Carla flirting with other men. One of those men tries to rape Carla but, luckily for her, Paul has been following them and beats him up. Meanwhile, Paul's parole officer has his own problem: his wife has disappeared since a week, and her own sister has no clue. One night the mobster asks Paul to drive his wife home. The wife is depressed and drunk. While Paul is driving, the woman vomits on him. Carla spends the whole night alone on the roof spying the mobster for Paul. Eventually she sees garbage bags being moved around the apartment. When Paul finally shows up, she tells him. He guesses that the bags must contain money. Paul prepares to rob the boss' office. Carla gets into Paul's appartment to pick up something and starts browsing through his stuff. She finds a passport under a false name and an air ticket for South Africa under that name: Paul is planning to flee France, and he never told her. They are not lovers, but she is nonetheless devastated. Meanwhile, Paul's parole officer finally alerts the police that his wife is missing. Paul gets into action at the night-club. He searches everywhere for the bags but doesn't find them. Carla is waiting for him in the car. Paul tells her that he failed. Carla then takes over: she starts searching the boss's apartment and almost gets caught, but she does find the money. She walks into the night-club and tells Paul that she has the money. Paul is ecstatic but then she tells him that she knows about his intention to flee abroad and that she will not allow him to take the money with him. She walks back to the car and waits for him. Just then the boss discovers that the money has been stolen. He needs that money to pay another mobster who is on his way. Since Paul is leaving surreptitiously, the boss assumes he's the thief and proceeds to torture him. Carla climbs to the roof again to watch with the binoculars. When the boss takes a break, Paul speaks to her at the window. She reads his lips. Paul wants Carla to pick up the boss' wife and tell her that her husband is about to leave the country. Carla drives to her place and pretends to be her husband's lover. Carla convinces the wife that her husband is about to leave with another girl taking with him the bags full of money. The wife calls her husband just when the other mobster has arrived to withdraw the money. This other mobster overhears the conversation, assumes that Paul's boss is cheating on him, and locks him with Paul. Meanwhile, we see that the parole officer is trying to kill himself. Paul finds a way to free both himself and his boss. The boss grabs a knife and kills the other mobster. Paul gets to the wife's apartment where Carla is waiting. As they drive away, they see Paul's parole officeer being dragged into a police car. Carla reads his lips: he is saying that he loved his wife (presumably he also killed her). Paul and Carla stop the car and at last make love.

De Battre Mon Cour S'Est Arrete'/ The Beat That My Heart Skipped (2005), whose story is based on James Toback's Fingers, is an emotionally gripping portrayal of a man troubled by two many colliding lives. Unfortunately it is ruined by an irrelevant ending. Before the final scene, the protagonist was living a highly symmetric doppelganger kind of life: on one hand the business man, trained by his father to be ruthless, with a gorgeous if dumb sexual partner and a nemesis who is a mobster, and on the other hand the musician, trained by his mother to be a loser, with an angelic and sexless teacher and a benefactor who is a classical music expert. This is a wildly multicultural story in which immigrants pop up everywhere: they are squatters, mobsters, bad tenants, but also devoted piano teachers. A lot of them don't speak any French, which makes it difficult for the protagonist to communicate with them other than through violence or money.

A man tells a friend, Thomas, how his father regressed to being a helpless baby and he had to take care of his father like he was his son. Three young men drive at night, discussing shady deals. They drop rats in a building to get rid of the people who moved in there illegally. Next, two of them, Fabrice and Thomas, fight with squatters and a city official who defends the squatters. To avoid more squatters, the two demolish the rest of the building. Thomas' job is to make real estate deals with derelict buildings, and in most cases this involves the use of stratagems to get rid of the families that live in such abandoned places, mostly poor immigrants from Africa. He learned the trade from his father. He meets him at a restaurant and learns that he wants to get married again, this time with a very young girl. Thomas is hostile to the girl and tells his father that she's just a whore. His father has problems with an Arab tenant who hasn't paid rent in six months and asks Thomas to take care of it. While driving around, Thomas accidentally recognizes an old man: his (now dead) mother was a concert pianist and this was her manager. Thomas used to be a promising classical pianist and now the old man wants him to audition for him. The truth is that Thomas has not played in ten years, having been initiated to the real estate business by his father. Something awakens inside Thomas, though, who now wants to find out if he can still play. He is introduced to a fresh immigrant from China, a woman named Miao who doesn't speak any French. His father is hostile to the idea because his mother ended cheating on him and dying poor. Thomas would rather not help his father with the Arab tenant, but the tenant beats his father and then Thomas breaks into the place, sets fire to the kitchen, beats the tenant and holds a knife to his throat until he gets the money owed to his father. His father raised him to become this enforcer of real estate deals, not to become the pianist that his mother wanted him to become. Thomas loves his father, but now wants his freedom to dream. His friend and business partner Fabrice uses Thomas to cheat on his gorgeous wife Aline: whenever Fabrice has an appointment with another woman, he pretends that he's having dinner with Thomas. Meanwhile, Thomas begins to take lessons from Miao: it is a painful experience, as he has lost much of his technique. Later that night he brings back home a very drunk Fabrice and faces a suspicious Aline. Now he basically lives three lives: a night life of clubs and loud music, a suit and tie life of business deals, and the life of a piano student. When Aline finds Thomas alone without Fabrice when the two men are supposed to be dining together, Thomas stops pretending. Aline knows that her husband has been cheating on her. Thomas has been secretely admiring the beautiful and elegant Aline, and now he has a chance to tell her and to test her feelings. It turns out she is attracted too. They become lovers. Now he has a fourth life: secret lover of Aline. The suit and tie business is going downhill because he is distracted by his piano lessons. He keeps seeing Aline and is jealous that she is still having sex with Fabrice and makes her jealous telling her that he too sleeps with other women. The Chinese teacher is very strict and demanding. Thomas' father is beaten by a Russian partner who refuses to return some bribe money. His father also broke up with his fiance. Thomas has lunch with her and offers her money to watch over his father, feeling that the man is getting old and cannot be trusted anymore. Now he has a fifth life: watching over his aging father. Thomas finds the Russian in luxury hotel, but realizes that he is a dangerous mobster, constantly followed by two bodyguards. Thomas can only take his revenge indirectly, seducing the Russian's very young French girlfriend. Thomas is increasingly frustrated that the Chinese girl is so much better than him as a pianist. But one day she finally says "good" at his playing and makes him smile. Just in time: it's the eve of the audition. She tells him that he needs to rest, but instead his business partners bang at his door in the middle of the night with the news that they have a chance to close an important deal right away about an empty building. She told him to relax and sleep: instead he has to help his friends take care of squatters. This time Thomas is disgusted watching his partners enjoy the African immigrants run away after their furniture has been destroyed. Morning comes and Thomas walks to the audition. Whether because he didn't sleep enough or because the piano lessons were not enough, he badly fails the audition. Later he finds his father killed in his apartment.
The film suddenly fast forwards by two years: Thomas has become the manager (and possibly the boyfriend) of the Chinese pianist, who now speaks fluent French. It's an important night for her. He takes her to the concert hall but then notices the Russian mobster who killed his father and follows him in the restrooms. Thomas attacks him and they end up fighting in the stairwell while the Miao's concert has started. Thomas grabs the Russian's gun to finish him but can't. He then washes his face in the restrooms and walks to his seat in the auditorium to watch the Chinese pianist finish her performance.

Un Prophete/ A Prophet (2009) is a powerful psychological portrait and a ferocious fresco of prison life.

Malik, a Muslim teenager, is in jail for attacking a cop. His attorney treats him like routine, only interested in getting his compensation. Malik is sent to a jail for six years and is immediately attacked by thugs who steal his shoes. Meanwhile, an important witness, also a Muslim, is sent to the same jail. The old mobster Cesar, who is incarcerated there, wants to kill him. Cesar, an Italian, has a group of loyal Italian thugs and has bribed guards around the prison. Cesar decides to draft the newcomer, Malik, for the killing. Malik's initial response is to call for the warden, but, instead of the warden, Cesar's men show up and beat him up: it's a way to prove to Malik who is in charge in that prison. Cesar's men train him how to carry out the killing with a razor blade, taking advantage of the fact that the witness wants oral sex from Malik in exchange for drugs. Malik pretends to accept the deal but instead attacks the witness and cuts his throat. Malik is tormented by fear and remorse but he is now under the protection of Cesar's clan. Born an orphan and raised in a juvenile center, Malik is illiterate. The Muslims of the prison organize schools and he is invited to attend one to learn how to read and write. After one year Malik is still alienated from both groups. Cesar's group and the Muslims antagonize each other, and Malik, a Muslim, does not belong to either group. Cesar's group is clearly racist towards him, excluding him from social activities. On the other hand, Ryad, a Muslim, teaches Malik to read and write, and spends time with him, even telling him that he survived testicle cancer after chemotherapy. The other Muslims resent their friendship, viewing Malik as an enemy. One day Cesar receives bad news: a political decision from the government means that some of his men will be transferred and others released, i.e. that Cesar will remain alone in his old age. The director of the prison in person sympathyzes with him and tries to cheer him up. Malik surprises Cesar: Malik has learned to speak Italian, and is the last loyal man left to Cesar. Cesar reluctantly promotes him to his lieutenant, asking the warden to appoint Malik porter and to move him to the cell next door, with all sorts of privileges. Malik serves Cesar loyally, reporting back to him everything that takes place in the prison, including talks in Italian that the Italian prisoners don't think Malik can understand. Cesar is worried about his business empire and finds a way to get Malik promoted so that the kid can get a free day off every now and then and operate outside on his behalf. Meanwhile, Malik also befriends Jordi, a gypsy and a drug dealer, while Ryad is released and starts a humble family life outside. Jordi has a problem: before being arrested, he hid a sack full of drugs in a gas station's restroom, and has no way to rescue it. On the first day off, Malik is asked to deliver a briefcase full of money. He is not told that the money is for the release of a man, an extremely weak man whom Malik has to carry out on his shoulders. He gets paid well for his service. Then he stops by the gas station and rescues Jordi's drugs. When Malik meets Ryad again, he has money and drugs. He invites Ryan to become a partner in a drug dealing business with Jordi. Ryad accepts and drives him back to jail in time. Officially, Ryad found Malik a job in a car-repair shop. The business goes well, but there are two problems. First, Cesar wants Malik to infiltrate and destabilize the Muslims because they are increasing in number and don't respect him. Therefore Cesar sends two guards to mess up the cells of the Muslims and then asks their leader to do something for him in return for relieving the pressure: Cesar needs to communicate with a Muslim gangster named Brahim. Second, a rival gang, led by Latif the Egyptian, kidnap Ryad and steal the drugs. Malik finds out that Latif's brother-in-law is incarcerated in the same prison, has his family kidnapped and trades one for the other. The turmoil, however, doesn't go unnoticed to Cesar, who finds out the truth. Cesar is angry because Malik is using his leave time to do a risky business that could cost him the loss of his leave time that Cesar needs to carry out his own business. Cesar punishes Malik violently in front of other prisoners and Malik swears to kill him. At the same time he is still haunted by nightmares about his killing of the witness three years earlier. Cesar orders Malik to use his next leave day to travel to a distant city by airplane and contact Brahim. Ryad drives Malik, dressed like a businessman, to the airport. He is excited because he has never taken a plane before. It turns out that that Brahim was friend with the witness killed by Malik and wants revenge. Malik saves his life because, still traumatized by a dream, he warns the driver that deer are about to cross the road, which happens just then. Brahim calls him "a prophet" and instantly becomes his friend. Brahim tells Malik that there is a snitch among the Italians. Back in the prison, Cesar agrees and sends a message to his gang that they need to find the snitch. Cesar has bigger plans though: he wants to assassinate his own boss and take his place. Cesar asks Malik and Ryad to do it. Malik agrees but then works out an alternative plan with Ryad, who is now dying of cancer and needs money for his wife and baby. On a leave day, Malik and Ryad follow the armored van of the mafia boss, then Malik attacks him killing everybody inside except the boss. Then they tell him that Cesar sent them to kill him, thus igniting a feud between Cesar's gang and the mafia. Ryad asks Malik to promise that he will take of his wife and baby. Malik sleeps at Ryad's house against the regulations of the prison, but he is happy to be confined in solitary punishment because this allows him to escape the war among the two gangs that kills a lot of inmates. After 40 days he returns to his regular cell, but he refuses to talk to Cesar. When Cesar tries to approach him, it is the Muslims who protect him and kick Cesar away: Cesar is now a finished man, alone and powerless.
The six years are over and Malik is released from prison. Outside he is met by Ryad's widow and her baby. It looks like the beginning of a new life, but they are followed by a convoy of vehicles... Malik's new gang or a gang sent to assassinate him?

De Rouille et d'Os/ Rust and Bone (2012)

Dheepan (2015)

His first English-language film, The Sisters Brothers (2018), based on Patrick deWitt's novel "The Sisters Brothers" (2011), is a powerful western drama about the conflict between violence and peace. By the end, it becomes also a metaphorical story about the long difficult sinful odyssey of the brothers back to their origins, a sort of cathartic liberating ceremony. It is a fast-paced film in which a lot happens, and most of what happens has been seen in many westerns before, so sometimes it feels like a quick parade of John Ford-ian stereotypes, a story built out of well-known stories.

The film is set in the wild west of the 19th century (Oregon 1851). It opens with a shootout involving the Sisters brothers in the dark. They kill all the men, six or seven. They are legendary gunslingers, Eli and Charlie Sisters, who work for a mysterious Commodore. They discuss the new mission. Their next mission is to contact a private detective named John Morris, who has been searching for a man named Hermann Warm. The Commodore claims that Hermann stole money from him and wants him dead. The brothers ride through the windy landscape discussing family life. Their father was an alcoholic. Meanwhile, John the detective is following a caravan of migrants. He reads from his diary in his mind and we realize that these are men driven west by the Gold Rush. Meanwhile, Eli buys a new invention, the toothbrush, and clumsily brushes his teeth. while Charlie gets drunk at the saloon. Meanwhile, John writes in his diary about the boomtowns that rise suddenly out of nowhere. By coincidence, Hermann, who has noticed him before, starts talking to him and they become friends. Hermann's first impression is that John is a kind man, when in fact John is there to deliver him to killers. John helps Hermann buys a horse. Hermann doesn't look like a criminal: he looks more like an engineer. The brothers receive John's messages and ride over the mountains to the meeting point. Eli swallows a tarantula while asleep. One night over dinner Hermann tells John that he is a chemist and he discovered a chemical process to find gold in rivers. He says that most people don't believe him, and, when they believe him, they want to kill him. When he wakes up, a feverish Eli finds that half of his face is paralyzed. That night Charlie has to kill a grizzly bear that badly wounded a horse. Eli recovers, and the brothers resume their ride. The emigrants reach the town where John is expecting the brothers. John realizes that someone has stolen his handcuffs and seconds later he is facing an angry Hermann pointing a gun at him. Hermann has figured out what John's job is, but Hermann is too inexperienced with guns and John easily overpowers him. Hermann knows that John is sent by the Commodore. The Commodore has already tried to steal his formula. Hermann knows that the Commodore is sending the brothers to torture him until he reveals the formula. John keeps writing his diary, describing Hermann's silently waiting for his death while handcuffed to a chair. But then John decides that he doesn't want to be an accomplice to both robbery and torture of an innocent man. John releases Hermann and they flee together. Four days later, the brothers ride into town and find a note written by John that Hermann has left town. In reality, Hermann and John are riding together. Hermann tells John that getting rich is only a means to a bigger end: to found a new idealistic society in Texas. John realizes that he has lived all his life full of hatred because of his conflict with his father, and John finally comes to terms with his father's inheritance. Hermann offers John a share in a company that they create. The brothers are still following them and reach a town named after the saloon owner, Mayfield. Charlie walks into the saloon, talks too much, gets drunk with the whores. Eli hires a whore to play a part, the part of a loving wife; but she gets scared. The whore nonetheless likes him and warns him about the saloon's owner, Mayfield, a tough woman. Realizing that they are in some kind of danger, Eli looks for Charlie in the rooms of the whores and finds him half unconscious. But outside the saloon they are ambushed by four gunslingers. Eli and the drunk Charlie still manage to kill them. Then they torture Mayfield and make her talk. She confesses that John paid her to kill them. She also reveals that she sent her own men after John and Hermann to get the formula for herself. They torture her to open her safe, steal her money and kill her. As they walk outside the saloon, they are met by a puzzled crowd, but nobody dares to stop them. Now finally Charlie tells Eli what the Commodore really wants them to do: torture Hermann until he reveals the formula. It is not about stolen money, it is about the chemical formula. The two resumes their horse ride until they reach the ocean. They ride into San Francisco. The brothers take a room in an expensive hotel. They see a flushing toilet for the first time. They have dinner among the nobility. Eli tries to talk Charlie into changing their life: quit working for the Commodore, and use Mayfield's money to open a store. Charlie has no intention of starting a normal life and tells Eli that he will simply find another partner. Eli accuses Charlie of being a drunk and Charlie storms out throwing money on the floor. The following morning a resentful Eli is ready to leave town when Charlie tells him that he just found out where John is hiding. Eli punches him in the face. They make peace and Eli accepts to carry out this last assignment. Charlie found out the lake where John and Hermann started their gold-panning operations. They ride to the lake. They camp just before the lake. While they are asleep, John and Hermann attack them. Eli betrays them by saying that they don't work for the Commodore, which of course means that they do know the Commodore. In the morning Eli and Charlie are tied up. John and Hermann are ready to flee. Four men attack them, obviously the ones sent by Mayfield. Charlie begs them to free them because the brothers are better shooters. John and Hermann free them and, sure enough, Charlie and Eli quickly eliminate the assailants. At night, around a fire, Hermann offers a deal that John reluctantly accepts: Charlie and Eli will help them dig the gold and in return they will keep half the takings. They notice that Hermann's leg is badly scarred, as if from an acid substance. John does not trust the brothers but the collaboration actually works out. The brothers learn to respect the chemist, and to enjoy the hard work of the gold diggers. John begins to trust the former gunslingers. They join forces to build a little dam in the river. Eli's horse, that had been wounded by the bear, dies. Hermann and Eli chat about their lives. Eli reveals that Charlie was always violent. Eli thought his duty to stand by him and protect him from his own violent temper. Eli also reveals that Charlie kills their alcoholic father. Eli and Charlie know that the Commodore is probably sending other killers after them. Hermann's chemical is extremely toxic and has to be handled with care. They pour it into water at night. It makes gold ore glow. The trick works and they start collecting the gold, but the water quickly becomes unbearable to the human skin. Charlie gets too excited and badly injures his hand handling the caustic powder, while also causing John and Hermann to get injured. Charlie can't move his arm anymore. Hermann dies, killed by his own invention. John begs Charlie for a gun and kills himself because the pain is unbearable. Eli finds and reads John's diary. Charlie's arm is rotting. Eli takes Charlie to a doctor amputates his arm with a saw while Eli is holding him still. Eli is waiting for Charlie to wake up when the doctor announces that three men are looking for them. They are gunslingers sent by the Commodore. Eli has to face them alone. Eli and Charlie leave town but they are ambushed by more gunslingers. Eli prevails again but new men keep coming all the time. Charlie, having lost his right arm, is now useless, and frequently cries. Tired of running away, they realize that their only hope is to kill the Commodore. The deadly encounters eventually end, which puzzles them. They reach the Commodore's compound and Charlie directs Eli on how to enter the compound. But they find the compound turned into a funerary chamber: the Commodore lies in a casket. The Commodore looks so alive that Eli punches his face a few times to make sure he is really dead. The brothers ride again, this time towards their old home, an isolated home where their mother lives alone. Their mother shoots at them and is initially reluctant to let them in, but then they become a family again.
(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )