Panique Julien Du Vivier Monsieur Hire Patrice Leconte

In this sequence analysis we will compare the opening sequences of two films adapted from the same novel, Georges Simenon's Les Fiançailles de Monsieur Hire (1933). Since these films and their directors are less well known than those used so far in this chapter, there follows rather more context than for previous sequence analyses.

Some 30 Simenon novels have been adapted for the screen. The most recent in relation to Monsieur Hire had been Tavernier's L'Horloger de Saint-Paul (1973). In the 1980s Tavernier was seen as a representative of the French quality tradition, a throwback to the films of the 1950s. Even more recently, Chabrol had adapted Les Fantdmes du chapelier (1982), also dealing with lonely men. Patrice Leconte had made 14 films in the period 1969-1987 and, prior to this one, was known for light comedies, especially for the iconoclastic comic team of Le Splendid in the mid-1980s. The director of the earlier him, Julien Duvivier, made 51 films in the period 1922-1967. He is mostly remembered for the three great films made with Jean Gabin as star: La Bandera (1935); La Belle Equipe (1936), Pepe le Moko (1937). He had also already adapted a Simenon novel before this one, La Tete d'un homme (1932).

The opening sequences from the two films are very similar, but there are significant differences that the following sequence analysis will discuss. Panique opens with a tramp asleep on a bench in a city square being moved on. Monsieur Hire photographs the tramp before going into a butcher's shop to buy his slice of meat for the evening. While he is there, some circus men visiting the city discover a body on wasteland. Monsieur Hire goes to the cheesemonger's, where all the talk is of the discovery of a corpse; he is not interested in the talk. On his return home, he meets a little girl and talks to her, but her mother pulls her away from Hire angrily. Alice arrives in town; she and her boyfriend, Alfred, pretend that they do not know each other, and meet in the churchyard, where we learn that Alice has just come out of prison, having taken the rap for Alfred. In the second major opening sequence, we see Hire eating, and brushing his shoes. He sees Alice arrive in her hotel room opposite. She undresses, notices Hire and, sticking her tongue out at him, closes the window.

We have provided a shot-by-shot breakdown for the opening sequence of Monsieur Hire below, but the following outline will be useful for comparative purposes.

The Inspector deals with a body found on wasteland, and goes to the victim's bedroom to muse on the fragility of life. Monsieur Hire returns home and counts slowly with little Marie to get rid of her hiccups. The Inspector confronts Hire in his workshop, suggesting he might be the murderer. Hire eats in his darkened room; when the light streams in from a room opposite, he gets up and spies on Alice as she gets ready to leave her apartment. He listens to a piece of music as he watches her; we get the sense that this is a ritual.


1 Corpse

2 Inspector

3 Pierrette's room

4 Photos

5 Corpse at morgue

6 Inspector photographs corpse



• 'Viewer skips the moments that have ... no direct bearing on the plot.'


• The scenes are taken not as separate instances but only in their totality, which has the status of an ordinary sequence and which therefore constitutes an autonomous segment. In its extreme form (that is, when the successive episodes are separated by a long diegetic duration), this construction is used to condense gradual progressions.'

• 'Symbolic summary of one stage in the fairly long evolution condensed by the total sequence.'

7 Marie and Hire's feet

8 Hire

9 Hire's hand on Mane's head

10 Hire and Marie

11 Marie watches Hire


• 'Coincidence of screen time and diegetic time.'

• 'Continuity in the soundtrack.'

12 Hire sewing

13 Hire sewing

14 Inspector at door

15 Hire stops machine

16 Hire's workshop

17 Hire

18 Inspector

19 Hire

20 Hire

21 Photo of Pierrette


• 'Coincidence of screen time and diegetic time', although there is a break between shots 14/15, so strictly it is an ordinary syntagma.

22 Corpse being covered

Autonomous insert:

• Subjective: 'Image conveying not the present instance, but an absent moment experienced by the hero of the film. Examples: images of memory, dream, fear, premonition.' Perhaps the Inspector's flashback?

• Displaced diegetic: 'Image that, while remaining entirely "real", is displaced from its normal filmic position and is purposely

intruded into a foreign syntagma. Example: Within a sequence showing the pursuers, a single shot of the pursued is inserted.' Taken from an earlier narrative event.






• 'Coincidence of screen time and diegetic
















33 Door

34 Egg

35 Hire gets up

36 Hire at window

37 Hire eats yoghurt

38 Alice dresses

39 Hire puts yoghurt down

40 Object falls off table

41 Turntable

42 Hire at window

43 Alice

44 H ire moves at window

45 Hire and Alice in shot


• ^Coincidence of screen time and diegetic time.' Intuitively we read this as a single 'theatrical' event. The soundtrack is diegetic and continuous, as is clear from shot 41, even though there may be a break between shots 35/36.


• We might also read it as a 'typical event', a ritual, complete with the same music repeated time after time. But note that the object falling off (40) is unlikely to be a repeated event, nor are the children banging at the door (33).


There are significant differences in the way the two films open, even when on paper they appear to be similar; similarities would be, for example, the taking of the photograph, or the encounter with a little girl. The differences function to underline Hire's status. In Panique he is an individual who stands out from a community; in Monsieur Hire, he is an individual who is not merely an oddball, but disquietingly strange, a contrast emphasised by mise-en-scene and camerawork. The accosting of the little girl, to which we have just referred, indicates Hire's 'strangeness' in both films, but this is done explicitly in the 1946 film by having the girl's mother emerge from her apartment and pull her daughter away from Hire, suggesting that Hire is not a man to be trusted. In the modern film, Hire's strangeness is more implicit, conveyed by stark lighting (a cold blue), close-ups on the faces and a stylised shot of Marie's blank gaze at him, which is more difficult to interpret than the much more obvious reaction of the girl's mother in the earlier film. His strangeness is also conveyed implicitly, and most obviously, by the activity itself. In the earlier film Hire gives the girl an apple, whereas in the modern film the fact that he is helping the girl to overcome her hiccups is only made clear when he says that 'she no longer has them'; the spectator is left guessing as to what has been going on.

The sense of Hire's ambiguity and strangeness, more characteristic of the modern film, is also prevalent in the major differences between the two films. These are, first, that Hire and his reaction to the murder are introduced by contrasting him with a crowd in the 1946 film, but by contrasting him with an individual, the Inspector, in the 1989 film; second, that Alice and her boyfriend are introduced much earlier in the 1946 film; and, third, Hire's spying on Alice is presented as a habit in the 1989 film, whereas it is clearly the first occasion in the 1946 film.

In the 1946 film, Hire is seen shopping, along with many others. When news of the murder breaks, he is the only one not to manifest curiosity, his comments singling him out from the rest of the shoppers. This is emphasised by mise-en-scene and camerawork. Where the camera is concerned, for example, low-angle shots are associated with Hire (when he gets off the tram; when he goes up the stairs), whereas the square is associated with high-angle shots, establishing a spatial contrast between the community and Hire. Where mise-en-scene is concerned, Hire is consistently 'framed' in isolation (by dead meat in the butcher's, by the windows of the concierge's lodge, by his own window). Even the odd action of photographing the tramp (brought squarely to the spectator's attention by a rapid zoom combined with a tilt down) suggests that he has some kind of affinity with the tramp, underlining his own marginality and isolation, and the fact that people find him repellent, as the incident with the little girl's mother will go on to emphasise. The camera also, of course, associates him with voyeurism, the main theme of the film.

By contrast, in the modern film, it is the Inspector who takes a photograph, in this case of the corpse laid out in the morgue, turning the Inspector into as much of a disquieting figure as Hire himself. Indeed, even our sense of location is questioned in the modern film. Whereas in the earlier film, it is clear that the story is taking place in the city around a square, in the modern film, there are abrupt shifts of location (wasteland, bedroom, morgue, apartment block, workshop), which combine with the oddity of the characters to create considerable ambiguity for the spectator. Where are we exactly? Who exactly are these people? Patrice Leconte commented on the Inspector thus: 'I had asked Wilms to act the whole of this first part as if he were the father of the dead woman. It is only when he is with Monsieur Hire that we discover that he is a policeman' (Monsieur Hire, 1990:11).

The second major difference between the two films is that Alice and her boyfriend are introduced much earlier in the 1946 film. This, combined with the third major difference - that Hire's spying is a habit in the modern film - once more emphasises the fact that the modern film is about a set of lonely individuals, whereas the earlier film's concern is with the notion of community and the individual's place within it. To be more precise, the 1946 film, hardly surprisingly given its date, is concerned with how a community deals with individuals who do not quite fit (an allusion to those who collaborated in the Second World War), whereas the modern film is more concerned with the familiar notion of individuals alienated from each other by urban life. That contrast can be seen in the camerawork: Panique has a very mobile camera, with 22 shots out of 56 containing pans, tracking shots or crane shots; unusually, perhaps (because modern films tend to use more mobile cameras), Monsieur Hire only has 7 out of 44 shots with a similar mobile camera. The characters in the modern film are contained and framed as individuals isolated from each other much more than in the 1946 film.

A comparison of the two films, therefore, tells us much about choices made by scriptwriters and directors when adapting the original novel. It allows us to place those choices in relation to the society of the time, thus complementing the more psychoanalytical interpretation of the film proposed by Abigail Murray in her essay in the previous section of this chapter.

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