THIEVES (LES VOLEURS) (France,1966) *** 1/4
Through 1996, 14 of his films have been released. Since 1993's "My Favorite Season" (starring Catherine Deneuve and Daniel Auteuil), Techine has been on a roll, in the USA too, with that movie, "Wild Reeds," and now "Thieves" (also with Deneuve and Auteuil).
Daniel Auteuil keeps reminding me of the great Michel Simon (1895-1975) in one way. Simon was, from his earliest films on, the ugliest star in France. Among the big, talented names today, Auteuil is up there too, at least in the category of far-from-pretty. His re-teaming with beautiful Deneuve adds another Beauty and the Beast to this category, but not in simple, obvious ways -- especially since the man's acting easily makes you forget his odd looks.
In "Les Voleurs" Auteuil shares the limelight with many other characters, but the main spotlight is on him. I say "main" because spotlights are also on several others and in an almost bewildering array of combinations and permutations. These, plus the film's use of many flashbacks and flashforwards, force the viewer to concentrate without pause on the people, facts and events on the screen. I would have preferred fewer flashbacks and a more linear construction.
To tell the plot would take up more space than a reviewer is given. It would also disclose what should not be revealed. Not so much in the whodunit way, though this movie is among a host of other things,also a thriller, but in all the other components.
"Thieves" takes place in our time, in and around Lyon, France's third largest city.Alex (Auteuil) is a police detective who never smiles. He divorced his wife (a cop too) because he did not want to hve children ("who wants to bring them up in this world?"). He is all-cop, always in contact with seamy life. His main beat is the "Cites," low-rent public housing complexes for low-income people (including immigrants) where it is risky for him to walk the streets at night.
Alex is semi-alienated from his family and has not seen some of them for four years, others for ten. He lives alone on a small salary. His father, a mysterious man, is wealthy. Alex has an older brother, Ivan, a shady type who runs an industrial-strength operation of expensive stolen cars, and has just opened Mic Mac, a nightclub. Ivan has a wife, a 10-year old boy (a loner), many mistresses. He boasts to Alex about his wealth, disdains Alex's modest existence.
When Alex does meet member sof the family, it is for unavoidable or semi-professional reasons. The encounters, even when friendly on the surface, reveal a great deal of disapproval , antagonism and hostility on all sides. .
In Ivan's entourage are a young man, Jimmy and his sister Juliette. They both have criminal records. Jimmy is now the junior partner at the Mic Mac.
There is an odd, kinky relationship between Alex and Juliette, after she is brought to him for shoplifting. There is also Marie (Deneuve), who teaches philosophy at the uiversity, is divorced and a grandmother (scrumptious) who has entered into a passionnate relationship with her student... who happens to be Juliette. Because of Juliette, the professor and the cop meet and develop a weird sort of rapport.
Much happens in the movie, with the stress on character exploration and relationships. Some relationships may strain belief, but do not break it. The Alex-Ivan setup goes further and deeper than the sometimes Hollywood-familiar "brothers on opposite sides of the law." Juliette, a dysfunctional cipher in many ways, keeps reminding me of Juliette Lewis. She has had several quirky relationships and there is even a vague hint of incest. And so it goes.
This is not "entertainment" in the ordinary sense, but while not cheerlful, the complex, unusual persons and happenings,the tough, psychological, erotic and "intellectual" aspects are fascinating to follow in this zig-zagging story. Twice I have seen "Thieves" eight months apart. The second viewing was even more satisfactory than the first .