Le Combat Dans L'île Movie Review
Produced by friend and mentor Louis Malle, Cavalier's metamorphosing tale of obsession and repression was originally met with middling reviews in l'hexagon upon its release in 1962. Surrounded by the "dirty war" in Algeria, Cavalier and co-scripter Jean-Paul Rappeneau set out to condemn not only what the government sold as "maintaining the order in a province," despite broad support for the war.
The Austrian-born Romy Schneider, far from the German royalty dramas and romances that typified her early career, gives a complex performance as Anne, housewife to troubled factory-owner scion Clement (Jean-Louis Trintignant). On her daily errands one morning, she uncovers a bazooka in her closet which ends up not being such a big deal because it doesn't belong to Clement; it belongs to creepy fascist brother-in-arms Serge (Vincent Price-doppelganger Pierre Asso).
The bazooka will be used a few nights later in the attempted assassination of a left-wing parliament member, played by Maurice Garrel (Philippe's father), with Clement as the trigger man and, ultimately, the fall guy. Schneider must have had something for troubled guys: She would next be seen in the role of Leni in Orson Welles' adaptation of Kafka's The Trial. In due time, she leaves Clement, who transforms into a vengeful assassin to hunt down globe-trotting Serge. Clement's left-wing college friend/printer Paul (Henri Serra of Jules and Jim) takes over as her lover and confidant, almost immediately impregnating Anne and insisting she return to her career as an actress in Paris.
The director tracks Trintignant's snarling, unpredictable sociopath with the patience of a surveillance expert, charting his growth from repressed right-winger to obsessive, chauvinistic dilatant. But Cavalier's central focus is Schneider, with that elegant face befitting Austrian royalty. Torn between her alluring, forceful past with Clement and the poetic freedom of Paul, Schneider's Anne very simply is 1960s France.
Brilliantly shot by Army of Shadows DP Pierre Lhomme, the film's clunky title refers to the tense climactic stand-off between Clement and Paul. More devoted to the draconian tone and pacing of Hitchcock than the glut of his compatriots, Cavalier wouldn't be truly recognized until 1968's tenuous Deneuve/Piccoli romance La Chamade, but Combat is in every way a superior work, a smart, immersive debut on par with Elevator to the Gallows.
Combat was released as de Gaulle was performing an abrupt about-face over the Algerian war, which he had originally supported. A failed assassination attempt by the Organization of the Secret Army, carried out by erstwhile Gaullist Jean Bastien-Thiry, would be the basis for The Day of the Jackal. As so many ambitious and avant-garde American films that found little love upon their opening yet eventually became pivotal works, Combat might now finally find itself as a key part of post-Algerian France.