Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
A PERFECT MAN (UN HOMME IDEAL) | 104 min | NR
Directed by: Yann Gozlan
Starring: Pierre Niney, Ana Giardot, Marc Barbé, Thibault Vinçon
Somehow, sort of unbeknownst to me, I’ve become a purveyor and completist of what I like to call “plagiarist cinema,” narratives that feature the ethical reverberations of its plagiarizing protagonist. My introduction to the cinematic sub-sub-sub-genre began with the Josh Brolin character in Woody Allen’s YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER. It then carried into Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal’s THE WORDS, which, truth be told, wasn’t totally successful in its aims. Now, this time from France, we add director Yann Gozlan’s A PERFECT MAN, which is a cross between THE WORDS and THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY (which is sort of loosely inspired too by PURPLE NOON). Taut, twisty and riveting, the perfectly sun-tanned noir ironically steals the right parts from its inspirations all while making it fresh.
As a car drives down a twisting, turning seaside road, speeding and weaving erratically, we can feel the desperation and death wish of the driver behind the wheel. It’s Mathieu Vasseur (Pierre Niney), a frustrated novelist at his wits’ end. But he didn’t used to be like this. Three years earlier, he was a working-class Parisian trying and failing to launch a successful writing career. One day luck steps in – preparation meets the opportunity of a lifetime. Mathieu discovers a handwritten manuscript hidden in the home of Leon Valban, a recently deceased former French soldier with no relatives. Leon’s journal chronicles his time fighting in Algiers – and it’s good. Really good. So good, struggling writer Mathieu thinks he could pass it off as his own without anyone finding out. And he does. Fame, fortune and females – specifically brunette beauty Alice (Ana Giardot) – follow. He’s a sensation! However, only a few years later, his fortune is depleted and, because of the pressure to deliver a second stellar novel is mounting, he’s got a nasty case of writer’s block. Oh and a mysterious dude (Marc Barbé) who knows the truth comes a’ calling, demanding a ransom for his silence. In order for Mathieu to dig himself out of his own grave, he’s gonna have to dig someone else’s.
Gozlan, along with screenwriters Guillaume Lemans and Grégoire Vigneron, improve upon similar themes and narrative turns from previous “plagiarist pictures.” In THE WORDS, it was unbelievable that the “confronting character” wanted nothing more than moral superiority. In A PERFECT MAN, it makes much more sense to have that character want a monetary reward. Gozlan’s stylization is part and parcel to a polished, pretty thriller. The static shot of Alice sitting in front of the tall grass by the pool, with the vertical lines of the blades, demonstrates the prison Mathieu’s trapped in. Shooting from overhead when Mathieu is loosing his grip on both his sanity and the ethical high ground is another great technique. Plus, adding in thrills with the nods – visually and story-wise – to RIPLEY was another wise choice by the filmmakers. It’s pleasantly RIPLEY-esque to have Mathieu plot to murder the person threatening to expose him. Plus the film also reflects visual motifs of mirrors and glass reflecting and refracting images of our hero. Grégoire Sivan’s clean, crisp cuts make the film feel snappy and energetic. Antoine Roch’s sparkling cinematography provides a wonderful, sun-drenched dichotomy to the snowballing story’s darkness.
With the innovative things the filmmakers do, there’s also a great deal of clumsiness. Mathieu’s third crime doesn’t make a lick of sense – yet thanks to the captivating narrative, Gozlan’s auteur eye, and Niney’s darkly delicious likeability, you’re right there with it ‘til the bitter end. Without spoiling things too much, I’ll just say two words: dental records. There’s a much simpler outcome. The filmmakers didn’t take that path to plausibility. Also, it’s a little baffling they didn’t end on an upbeat, but still nefarious note. The ending they chose is an eyeball-roll inducing, overly simplistic cautionary message about the absence of morality – something we got in the first ten minutes. At least give us a wicked and sinister finale.
3.5 out of 5
A PERFECT MAN (UN HOMME IDEAL) plays ColCoa on April 20 and April 25. It has no US distribution.