THE MOON IN THE GUTTER (Jean-Jacques Beineix, 1983)

Like some women, certain films come to us with a bad rep. Jean-Jacques Beineix’s La lune dans le caniveau, the follow-up to his popular and critical success Diva (1981), was ignored by the public and excoriated by reviewers. It’s a stylish studio-bound noir set at or near the docks in pre-World War II Marseilles. I happen to like this movie, but I’m not here to battle open shut minds. Rather, I wish to protest the ridiculous charge that the film is esoteric, incomprehensible, that the plot isn’t resolved, etc. The action seems clear enough to me.
     Gerard (Gérard Depardieu, excellent), a stevedore, haunts the spot where his sister, Catherine, was raped one night; damaged goods in a Catholic country, she may have committed suicide there, although it’s a stretch that she had a straight razor with her or that her assailant provided her with one. The mysterious crime is shown in flashback, but Beneix’s camera surveys (quickly, agitatedly) the pursuit and (slowly, sensually, mournfully) the outcome, not the rape, not the death. What we see is what Gerard himself imagines, which leaves out, of course, what he cannot bear to imagine. Gerard is hell-bent on avenging what happened to his sister.
     Gerard’s suspiciousness infects brother Frank, who is even more of a drunk than Gerard, with guilt over Catherine’s death. Frank finally assaults Gerard with the truth: “[The criminal] could be a stranger, could be anybody.” The entire film may be a dark fantasy playing out in Gerard’s mind.
     The identity of the criminal is irrelevant. What motivates Gerard is relevant: the incestuous desire of his that Catherine’s death has stirred in his unconscious, prompting the strenuous denial that his determination to discover the criminal’s identity encapsulates. In his tormented dreams, the identities of Catherine and Loretta, the rich, “pure” girl with whom Gerard doesn’t even have sex after they marry, become confused; we see a straight razor in his hand.
     Get ready to groan, but in the David Goodis novel on which the movie is based, the action is set in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love.

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