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A Perfect Man | 2015 COLCOA Film Festival Review

Words With Friends: Gozlan’s Stylish Noir all Amalgamated Pulp

Enjoyably anxious, director Yann Gozlan’s sophomore feature A Perfect Man (Un homme idéal) would better recall suspense masters like Hitchcock or Chabrol if its narrative felt a little less familiar. As such, it seems more like the B noir cousin of the cinema Gozlan is in conversation with rather than a revisionist take on one of cinema’s greatest femme fatales—karma. Featuring an excellent lead performance from recent Cesar award winning actor Pierre Niney, there’s much to admire even as Gozlan overdoses with increasing complications that hinge on the ludicrous.

Mathieu Vasseur (Niney) is an aspiring novelist, whose first manuscript, The Man From Behind, has been promptly rejected by publishers. Working vaguely as some sort of janitorial staff and/or garbage man, Vasseur stumbles into a lecture being given about scent’s relationship to memory and literature given by a beautiful young woman, Alice (Ana Girardot). Soon after, upon being hired to clear out the home of a dead man who has no living relatives, Vasseur stumbles upon a leather bound memoir documenting the man’s experiences in the Algerian war. It’s good stuff—so good, in fact, that Vasseur types it up, slaps his name on it, and in mere minutes he’s the talk of the literary town. His fame brings him into the same circles as the privileged Alice, and we skip three years into the future. Alice and Mathieu are engaged, and headed to stay in her parents’ mansion as he continues to pen his second book. Only, his publisher is breathing down his neck for the manuscript because Vasseur has already spent all of his considerable advances and has yet to write a sentence. Oh, and then an old friend of the dead soldier’s family comes forward and wants some money, too. One of Alice’s ex-flames, Stanislas (Thibault Vincon), comes to stay with the family, who is immediately suspicious of the nervous Vasseur.

The notion of a character like Mathieu Vasseur seems tailored for the likes of Niney, his first follow-up to playing the more celebrated 2014 celluloid version of Yves Saint Laurent. Gangly, unconventional, and with a set of arrestingly impressive facial tics, his is an inspired performance glued into a narrative we’ve seen too many times before not to find this utterly predictable (even with an extra dollop of twists). Recalling the famed Mr. Ripley character of Patricia Highsmith’s oeuvre, it’s a portrait of an intellectual con man whose own conflicting desires to be admired and loved conspire against his better judgment. As such, the film recalls a host of films that have come before it, and the film ironically includes a quote from Stephen King, and a 2004 adaptation of his novella Secret Window features a similar plot mechanism. More recent examples like 2012’s The Words and even season three of “House of Cards” feature characters in similar predicaments.

As Vasseur’s increasingly ill-conceived actions bring him to a definite point of no return, including murder, the impending threat of blackmail at the hands of Marc Barbe (looking more and more like Klaus Kinski) isn’t developed strongly enough considering we’re talking about the memoirs of a soldier that served in Algeria during a war that the menacing character of Vincent is too far removed from.

The increasing shift away from the lucrative business of academically inclined novelists also tends to make Gozlan’s film feel anachronistic. Still, it isn’t without enjoyable flourish, such as the disposal of a body that comically recalls Fritz Lang’s House by the River (1950). But as we pull up to the film’s ultimate consequence, whereby the literal and figurative progeny of the counterfeit author are irrevocably separated from their creator, this might as well have borrowed another 1950 noir title, The Man Who Cheated Himself. If only we had come to care whether Niney’s changeling succeeded or failed, this may have been more effectively memorable.

Reviewed on April 20 at the 2015 COLCOA Film Festival – Opening Night Film. 97 Mins.

★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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