THE MAN WHO LIES (Alain Robbe-Grillet, 1968)

Writer-director Alain Robbe-Grillet’s L’homme qui ment—essential viewing, this—begins in a wooded expanse as a youngish man, nicely dressed, pursued by armed soldiers, ducks behind trees to avoid their bullets and, despite the cascades of bullets aimed at him, escapes uninjured: a fantastical (and visually gorgeous) opening that visually translates this man’s propensity for telling whoppers. What that he says can we believe?

He tells us, he is “Jean Robin,” a hero of the Resistance; no, now he says he is “Boris Viasso,” Jean’s best friend; no, no, they had a falling-out and Jean was a traitor; no, no, no, he—Boris—was the traitor. No one in Jean’s hometown seems to recognize him; they all recognize him, he says, including Jean’s father; they are all ignoring him. Perhaps they are suspicious of this outsider who seems hell-bent on insinuating himself into the consciousness of the town, including Jean Robin’s mansion, that is, Jean’s widow’s domain. Whoever this soul is, he’s a fictionist who, instead of writing down his fictions, spins them in talk and activity.

What is this film about? Someone has suggested that Robbe-Grillet is testing the limits of narrative. Well, most writers are doing that. Surely Robbe-Grillet is also commenting on the lack of clarity of action and personality that war and resistance leave in their wake. We celebrate those we declare our heroes, but we don’t always really know who they are. Sometimes, those who are simply doing whatever it takes to survive slip into the categories of either “traitor” or “hero.”

War unsettles identity because, for better or worse, it is transformative. It leaves no one and nothing as it was.

Jean-Louis Trintignant is hilarious and engaging in yet another great role.

This film sparkles and delights.

 

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