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The Killing Game  
Alain Jessua
1967 || 95 mins

Comic book writer, Pierre (Jean-Pierre Cassel), and his illustrator/wife, Jacqueline (Claudine Auger), are visited in their office one day by an eccentric young man, Bob (Michel Duchaussoy), who claims to have lived out the adventures depicted in their comic-strips. Bob invites the couple to stay at the luxury mansion and estate in Switzerland where he lives with his wealthy but possessive mother (Eléonore Hirt). Inspired by Bob’s anarchic lifestyle, Pierre creates a new fictional character based on him called the ‘The Neuchatel Killer.’ Unfortunately Bob identifies a little too closely with his alter-ego and starts acting the stories out, drawing his house guests ever deeper into his dangerous delusions…

see also articles on:
Top 10 Films by Lesser Known Directors || Alain Jessua Profile|| French New Wave History || French New Wave Film Guide

Contemporary movies like the recent Kick-Ass (2010), have given the superhero comic book story a post-modern twist by asking the question: what would happen if somebody actually tried to become a superhero in the real world? Over 40 years ago Alain Jessua examined the very same theme in this wonderfully entertaining satirical thriller in which Jean Baudrillard’s idea of hyper-reality – that is the idea that the world we live in become so influenced by simulated worlds that we now only seek a sense of identity and reality through simulation and fantasy – is played out to its logical conclusion, until neither the characters, nor we the audience, are any longer sure of what is real and what is fiction.

But not everyone is so enamoured of fantasy. “I hate dreams,” reflects Pierre in the opening scene, “I believe what I touch.” He has nothing but contempt for those people who love to fantasize about a big orgy but would balk if they were ever confronted with a real one. “I’d give all dreams, all illusions, for a glass of wine, a woman’s smile, or a swim in a warm, clear sea. I dream of power, luxury, money and all worldly pleasures.” Unfortunately, as a perennially broke comic-book writer, he lacks the resources to fulfil his appetites. That’s where Bob comes in. He’s not just another fan, he has the wealth to make Pierre’s dreams come true. Each man holds the secret key to the other’s happiness. Pierre has no qualms about exploiting Bob for his own ends, but in his overconfidence he fails to see the dangers inherent in messing about with such an unstable mind.

At first Jacqueline seems even more cool and detached than her husband. When Pierre becomes paranoid about somebody following him, she jokes: “You’re becoming like the Swiss.” But it is she who comes closer to sharing Bob’s fantasy world, drawing herself into the cartoon story as its heroine Helen, and acting out some of the adventures for real. For a time, Bob’s Quixotic romanticism has more appeal for her than Pierre’s pragmatic cynicism, until that is, he loses all grip and the dark side takes over.

As in his first film, La Vie à l’envers (Life Upside Down, 1964), Alain Jessua depicts madness as a relative condition dependent only on the judgement of a flawed society. What the majority consider mad may in fact be evidence of a heightened sensibility. After all, Bob is paranoid but he has good reason to be, considering his mother has him followed at all times by a private detective. His constant need for new thrills, might simply be a way to occupy his bored mind. His terrorizing of the local population, an attempt to wake them up from their boredom and dullness. In many respects he is like a boy who has never grown up, spoilt and selfish perhaps, but retaining at least, an enduring belief in life’s possibilities.

Visually, Jeu de massacre jumps schizophrenically from Pop Art-style graphics to sinuous New Wave realism to genre melodramatics. Abrupt changes of pace and mood are reflected in a soundtrack that both rocks and rolls – from frenzied James Brown-style soul to urbane jazz to burlesque to whispered reflection in a heartbeat. The cast are a delight. Jean-Pierre Cassel was never better than here as the cynical, calculating Pierre, while Michel Duchaussoy is simultaneously touching and terrifying as the wide-eyed, disturbed playboy, Bob. With Jeu de massacre Alain Jessua again proved himself to be an original and brilliant filmmaker with an offbeat, thought-provoking vision, deservedly winning the Best Screenplay award at the 1967 Cannes Film Festival.

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