Tricheurs Movie Review
Barbet Schroeder's Tricheurs (aka Cheaters) is an underseen and unappreciated masterwork, writ small and perfectly crafted to devastate. The story follows Elric (Jacques Dutronc), a serial gambler who plies the casinos on the island of Madeira and never seems to win. Rather, it's not that he can't win, it's that he doesn't know when to quit if he does. Elric plays roulette, the game with the worst odds but which carries the highest potential payoff: $35 against a $1 bet. All it takes is a couple of big wins before Elric blows his funds on wild bets and promptly loses it all.
This makes Elric the perfect target for the local crew trying to cheat the casino. Because Elric is a notoriously high better and invariable loser, he can safely be the money man in a scam that involves three people distracting the roulette croupier in order to make a big bet after the ball has fallen. Finally, the gang pulls the stunt off successfully, and Elric proceeds to lose the winnings on subsequent spins of the wheel.
Eventually Elric falls in love with another gambler named Suzie (Bulle Ogier) and finally calms down enough to take the bump and bet trick on a world tour, racking up a huge bankroll... only he loses it yet again. Finally, down to the last of his stake, he and his girlfriend/partner devise a plan to use a rigged ball to win big. It works like a charm until Suzie (who's working the electronic device) panics and steps out for a drink. Elric proceeds to bet anyway, and promptly loses the winnings.
Up and down, up and down. Tricheurs is gut-wrenching in the way it shows how some people can never accept success. Elric is a loser of the worst sort -- destined to keep playing until he's out of money, no matter what. When you see him when for the third or fourth time, your heart actually sinks. Director Schroeder (Reversal of Fortune) proves how masterful he can be at pulling your strings and eliciting the exact opposite emotional response from you that you expect to have.
The look of the film is strictly '80s, with wide collars and awful carpeting installed a decade earlier. Dutronc shuffles through the film with the pathos of a lost puppy. You want him to win, but know full well he's a career loser. That said, the ending of the film comes out of nowhere -- and the repetition of Elric's failures can get, well, repetitious. But anyone interesting in the mindset of the gambling junkie need look no further than this small gem.
Schroeder appears on the new DVD with an interview about the film.