[WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS]
"I could have turned you in. I could have, you know," Alice tells Monsieur Hire, as she looks out from his apartment window from where he's spent months peeping into her bedroom.
"Yes, but you didn't," Hire points out.
Thus begins a spellbinding love affair.
Why doesn't Alice call the cops? Because, she says, Hire obviously is a nice person. Which surprises him, because all his neighbors view Hire as a creepy guy and are quite willing, much like the police, to believe he's responsible for the murder of a young woman in the neighborhood.
Patrice Leconte is a rare filmmaker. He's a master at crafting genuinely tense, intriguing moments out of mere subtleties. His films are so superbly character-driven without any of the artifice of many contemporary, or shall I say, Hollywood, films that we are drawn into their stories without realizing it.
In "Monsieur Hire," Leconte takes the story of a peeping tom and turns it into an unpretentious, gripping, sly romantic thriller. It initially reminded me of "The Cry of the Owl" (1987), but works on a much deeper, more human and satisfying level than Claude Chabrol's thriller.
Hire, brilliantly played by Michel Blanc, is a balding, lonely middle-aged introvert whose only sense of comfort comes from watching a beautiful young woman, Alice (a gorgeous Sandrine Bonnaire), through her bedroom window. But Alice finds herself strangely attracted to this recluse, though Leconte always keeps us wondering whether she has ulterior motives. After all, Hire certainly is not Alice's type. And is nothing like her fiancé, Emile.
In a mere 80 minutes or so, Leconte packs more suspense, intrigue and sensuality into his film than most two-hour thrillers. A scene involving Alice gently picking up tomatoes around Hire's feet and another at a boxing match are infinitely sexier than anything Paul Verhoeven, Adrian Lyne or countless other directors of "sexy thrillers" could have conjured up. And Leconte achieves this without any dialogue or even the slightest hint of nudity.
Elegant, smart, sophisticated and seductive, "Monsieur Hire" slowly creeps up on you and holds you in its web until its perfect conclusion. Then it haunts you for weeks.
I don't know whether only the French could make such a film. I know Hollywood never would. And American cinema is the worse for it.