Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Hanging Offense



Cette femme-la : France 2003 : Guillaume NICLOUX : 100 mins

no noose, good noose - Hanging OffenseHanging Offense is a classy modern policier – though on reflection, policiere might be a more suitable term, as le flic in question is Michele Varin (Josiane Balasko), a fiftyish female police-captain based in the outskirts of Paris. Her latest case involves a woman whose body is found hanging in the woods. Suicide? Varin reckons not – but soon gets much more than she’d bargained for.

The convoluted plot takes some following, but the film works consistently well as a character-study of Varin – presumably “that woman” referred to in the original Francophone title. A tragedy-haunted, jigsaw-addicted insomniac so tired that she lapses into brief moments of nightmarish sleep both day and night, Varin is plagued and annoyed by these terrifying mini-cauchemars. We rapidly sympathise, so frequently does writer-director Nicloux deploy this rather cheap cinematic trick.

There’s no denying that these sequences manage to both jangle our nerves and take us right into Varin’s troubled head – but at a significant price. Because we’re never able to trust what we’re seeing, the film only haltingly builds suspense. And the slight artsiness of the approach (most notably – recurrent shots of an oh-so-significant back alley) isn’t a great fit for thrillerish material, despite there being much to like about cinematographer Jean-Claude Lother’s prowling camerawork and his nocturnal, forestscape compositions.

The real trump-card, however, is veteran Balasko, who anchors the picture in believable reality – Nicloux sensibly keeps her on-camera almost throughout, in stark contrast to fleeting (but effective) appearances from established French ‘names’ Aurelien Recoing and Thierry Lhermitte. The latter’s heavily-bandaged cameo is a wry in-joke, Lhermitte having played the private-eye lead in Nicloux’s previous picture A Private Affair – an intriguing drama let down by its gimmicky twist climax. With Hanging Offense, Nicloux wisely opts for a conventional, all-action denouement, this time wrapping things up on a much more satisfying note.

14th September, 2004
(seen 25th August : Cameo Edinburgh : press show – Edinburgh Film Festival)

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by Neil Young