The Sleeping Car Murders (Costa-Gavras / France, 1965):
(Compartiment Tueurs)

A system of jangly flourishes, overcast Paris all lit up by "another sex crime, alas." Quick, roving shots in the train from Marseilles give compressed views of the characters in preparation for the crime, so that the strangled girl splayed in the compartment strikes a quiet note amid an opening flurry of movement. The victim is a flirtatious beauty-product envoy (Pascale Roberts), an inspector with a pesky head cold (Yves Montand) is on the case. Michel Piccoli twitches and sweats most elegantly, Simone Signoret is a fading diva with a frilly lapdog and an anecdote of lost youth, her disinterested young lover (Jean-Louis Trintignant) stashes muscle magazines around his lab. A couple of twitty juveniles (Jacques Perrin, Catherine Allégret) breeze through while a trenchcoated figure visits each suspect with a hand cannon: "Draw your suppositions, not your conclusions!" Costa-Gavras’ recherché debut is an exercise in propulsion, a policier less concerned with its mock-Simenon charades than with the darts and zooms in the Franscope frame. The camera gazes through the bottom of a beer glass, peers past the ropes at a prizefight, and spins upside down from a gunshot, all in anticipation of Argento. (Two gendarmes spell out the style in a sidelong joke, "flamboyant gothic" is their favorite architecture.) Veterinarian experiments and lottery tickets figure in the sundry red herrings, Hitchcock’s telephone booth (Blackmail) puts on an appearance, the climactic chase is curiously allied to Zazie dans le Métro. Charles Denner’s cameo at the police station as a brassy ferret who chatters "as if at a political convention" points the way for the filmmaker. With Pierre Mondy, Claude Mann, Nadine Alari, and Bernadette Lafont. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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