Sunday, 8 May 2011


STAVISKY is at the same time one of Alain Resnais's most audience friendly films and one of his most puzzling. On the surface it is a straight forward picture of Sergei Alexandre Stavisky, the charismatic Russian born swindler and con-man (played superbly by the equally charismatic Jean-Paul Belmondo) whose dirty dealings in the early Thirties nearly brought down the French coalition goverment - to the point of bringing France to the edge of civil war. The film shows us nothing of these tumultuous events - concentrating on the man himself while offering no real moral judgement on his lifestyle. Typically, Resnais shows us many sides of Stavisky's personality. He maybe on the edge of madness, maybe schizophrenic; he is a devoted husband with a stunningly beautiful wife yet happily sleeps with a woman in order to buy her jewellry at a cut-down price. For much of the film he seems rather like one of those gentleman crooks that were so popular in Thirties crime fiction. Investigated by the police and the secret service, Stavisky's financial empire begins to crumble - he is pursued by the corrupt forces that have allowed him to operate because his financial scams have supported them. When his friend, Baron Raoul, happily talks of having delibedrately squandered the ill-gotten fortune he inherited, Stavisky comments "I have to invent the money I squander!" Baron Raoul is, along with Stavisky's wife, the only one to remain loyal to him as all those he trusted desert or betray him. Raoul (probably a fictional character) is wonderfully played by Charles Boyer in one of his last performances. He is charmed by Stavisky and even when the truth is revealed that his friend is not French and is Jewish (he is like many European aristocrats casually anti-semitic) he stands by him - for Resnais not character is one sided. Stavisky's story is shadowed by events in the lives of two other Jewish immigrants - Leon Trotsky and a young German actress. The style of the film is typically elliptical with flashbacks and forwards and ending with a question that a lot of people have been asking about a more recent death - was Stavisky executed by the police who went to arrest him? The "official verdict" was suicide. Perhaps the line of dialogue that best sums up Stavisky the man and STAVISKY the film is "To truly understand him you must dream about him and dream his dreams." Very Resnais. Rating ****

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