Alain Tanner's disturbing elliptical thriller, MESSIDOR, is a suspense film without conventional thrills, an existential crime drama where fate is the principal character. As two teenage girls thumb their way through Switzerland, it's coolly clear that the director has a deadly
destination in store.
By chance, Marie (Catherine Retore), a shopgirl, encounters Jeanne (Clementine Amouroux), a college student, after Marie loses her return train ticket. Having felt claustrophobic in Geneva, Jeanne intends to put exam pressures behind her. Coming back from visiting her divorced dad in Lausanne,
Marie stalls going home to her mother and her mom's unpleasant live-in lover. Hitching rides on the same freeway as liberated Jeanne, Marie bonds with her newfound pal as they bad-mouth a sexist pig motorist and then agree to hit the road together. With few resources, no map, and no set plan, the
hitchhikers soon fall prey to a father and son who attempt to rape Jeanne after pulling off the main highway. After Marie knocks the father unconscious with a rock, the women journey on together.
During a ride with a cop, they steal his pistol; their antics attract the attention of the media. Refusing to abide by normal social strictures, the women beg for coins, try to chow down in a diner without paying, pull a gun on a belligerent farmer, steal food from a woman who befriends them, and
force a driver to taxi them at gunpoint. Outsmarting a trio of police officers, the women grow sick from hunger; despite a brief respite in the mountains, their desperate circumstances force them toward towns.
After pistol-whipping a motorist who sexually harasses them, Jeanne and Marie steal his cash and eat in a restaurant where they are recognized and later arrested. Before capture, they murder a man who phoned the authorities to report them. Having abandoned societal rules, the women commit this
final desperate act in the realization that for them, there is no turning back.
A master exemplar of detachment, Alain Tanner purposefully structures his psychological shocker as if her were examining two insects for an entomology lecture. Messidor is the name of a month from an outmoded French calendar, and this movie cinematically creates an aura of timelessness; days blend
aimlessly into one another as Jeanne and Marie are caught adrift. Not only do the women have nowhere to go, but their journey seems like an eternity even as reality comes crashing in on them. Incredibly, Tanner makes the audience feel the hung-over side effects of this trip to despair; time seems
to extend itself as our perception of it shatters.
Without social moorings, the women form a select club of two members, whose clubhouse is the open road. The real enemy here may lie within, however, as Jeanne and Marie form a symbiotic relationship similar to the one in IN COLD BLOOD (1967). But Tanner isn't concerned with re-treading crime story
cliches or in placing blame on his floundering protagonists. This is a strikingly directed mood piece in which the director simultaneously creates an ambiance of reckless abandon and an ominous atmosphere. Although limited somewhat by the blank-slate nature of his leading characters, Tanner does
draw the viewer into the world of the film. What's fascinating and frightening about the film is that the women adapt so easily to increasingly violent and anti-social behavior to survive; to them nothing matters except remaining in motion. (Profanity, violence, sexual situations, adultsituations.)
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- Released: 1981
- Rating: NR
- Review: Alain Tanner's disturbing elliptical thriller, MESSIDOR, is a suspense film without conventional thrills, an existential crime drama where fate is the principal character. As two teenage girls thumb their way through Switzerland, it's coolly clear that th… (more)