Jules and Jim and the Bazooka 

Le Combat dans l'îIle (1962)
Directed by Alain Cavalier

Like its far better known contemporary Jules and Jim, Alain Cavalier's nearly forgotten Le Combat dans l'îIle revolves around a potentially deadly love triangle with a woman's affection see-sawing between two old friends, and like Truffaut's classic it features the undersung Henri Serre in one of his few significant roles. But there the two 1962 films part company. Eschewing the air of whimsy that leavened the dour fatalism of the more celebrated offering, Cavalier conjures instead a mood of tense inescapability, alternating a political thriller framework with a drama of impressive psychological intimacy.

Semi-happily married to factory scion Clément (a steely-eyed Jean-Louis Trintignant), Anne (Romy Schneider) slowly uncovers her husband's involvement with a right-wing extremist group, the first sign being the odd presence of a bazooka hidden in their apartment. After a betrayal in the group's ranks leads to Clément's botching an assassination attempt, the couple flees Paris, staying with Paul (Serre), an old friend of the husband who prints leftist pamphlets out of his country house. The political soon becomes the personal as Anne's affections stray from her husband to his ideological and temperamental opposite. Where high-strung Clément commits to violent action in support of his reactionary cause, level-headed Paul espouses a pacifist orientation, except as a last necessity.

More significant, given the film's eventual identification with its female lead, is the men's treatment of Anne. Where Clément is abusive and jealous toward his wife, Paul is generous and open-hearted, encouraging her to resume the acting career that her husband has previously nixed. Thus for Cavalier, proper political identification results in proper romantic behavior. While the implications of the former play out against a tense, often docu-precise atmosphere of Parisian worker protests, rooftop snipers and suburban training sessions, the love triangle unfolds in the countryside, reaching its conclusion in an island shoot-out which turns more on improvised strategy than balls-out gunplay and results in an ambiguous concluding image that proves disturbing in its essential denial of female agency.

June 12-18 at Film Forum


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