Director Guiseppe Tornatore's A PURE FORMALITY is a suspenseful, philosophical drama about the interrogation of a famous writer in a run-down provincial police station following a mysterious event that appears to have happened near the writer's home.
The film opens with the image of a gun turning toward the viewer, and the sound of a shot. Next, a man (Gerard Depardieu) is seen running desperately through the woods during a nighttime storm. Stopped at a police roadblock and taken into custody, the man says he is the famous and reclusive writer
Onoff. The inspector who interrogates him (Roman Polanski) is an admirer of Onoff's work, and tests the man by quoting passages from Onoff's books. The inspector comes to believe his suspect's claim, is impressed and apologetic, but insists he must continue to investigate a murder in the area.
Subsequently, Onoff's inconsistent behavior and the film's ambiguous flashbacks both suggest the author may be guilty of a terrible crime.
The station's power fails, plunging everyone into darkness, and candles are lit. Onoff watches what appears to be a heavy body bag being brought in. In desperation he knocks out a young officer and escapes into the woods, but he is recaptured. Next day, the inspector empties a large canvas bag
full of photographs belonging to Onoff on the desk between them. The inspector reveals that there never was a murder and that the body bag contained the photographs. He lets Onoff rummage through the photographs and tell stories about some of the people in the pictures. Onoff confesses to having
told many lies: his name is a pseudonym, he wrote his own biography and filled it with falsehood, and he plagiarized his best-regarded novel from the notes of a dead friend. When power returns to the station, he telephones his lover and begs for forgiveness. He does not appear to hear her say that
the entire investigation has been an elaborate ruse.
A PURE FORMALITY is a study in isolation and guilt. Onoff feels guilty about the solitude his writing requires and, at the same time, has doubts about the value of his work. His lover, fearing he will try suicide, arranges for friends and the local police to protect and comfort him. The
possibility of a real crime and the guilt associated with it force Onoff to reconsider his situation. He asks himself if one can commit a crime and not remember. The implication is that Onoff has a responsibility toward life and that falsehood, forgetting, and thoughts of suicide are all
indicative of his failure to meet that responsibility. He survives his despair and shame and is rejuvenated by the efforts of friends and strangers.
There are many traditional elements to this crime story: the mystery; the isolation; inner conflicts; the storm; and the power failure. But it is the unconventional nature of the progress and resolution of the story, translated into intimate and unusual camera angles, that makes the film a
success. As the investigation progresses, the police and Onoff come to know, or presume to know, more and more about one another. But as more is revealed, more questions emerge, with greater uncertainty about what was previously known or assumed. The investigation suggests that all human
interaction and understanding involves a complex process of speculation and interpretation.(Violence, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: NR
- Review: Director Guiseppe Tornatore's A PURE FORMALITY is a suspenseful, philosophical drama about the interrogation of a famous writer in a run-down provincial police station following a mysterious event that appears to have happened near the writer's home. The… (more)