Critics' Pick

Panique (1946) (NR)

Drama 90 min. January 20, 2017
By Bilge Ebiri
There's precious little "panique" in Julien Duvivier's 1947 masterpiece, Panique. Rather, it's more of a gleeful hysteria, as the film traces the cloud of suspicion that gathers around a lonely, eccentric man until it explodes in a frenzy of surreal mob violence. Based on Georges Simenon's 1933 novel, Les Fiançailles de M. Hire, Duvivier's film kicks off in a realist register, then gradually transforms into a noirish romance of deception until finally settling into a tragic allegory of wartime collaborationism and the cruel madness of rumor, fear and spite.

Playing Monsieur Hire, the great Michel Simon starts off Panique as an engaging oddball, a bearded introvert. His neighbors distrust him, and nobody seems to be friends with the guy. The movie's most heartbreaking and stylistically wild scene comes about halfway through, as we see Hire riding a bumper car by himself, assailed remorselessly by cackling, sneering couples who ram their cars into his.

Hire opens up to the alluring Alice (Viviane Romance), who has recently been released from prison after taking the rap for her sociopathic beau, Alfred (Paul Bernard). Alfred, however, has just killed a local woman, and he needs to make sure that the cops trailing Alice don't catch wind of his guilt. Complicating all this: Hire has witnessed Alfred's crime, and may have proof of it. Alice is at least as heartless as her murderous paramour, and she decides to string the older man along so the evil lovers can either buy his silence or frame him for the murder. You might get an ulcer watching Panique. But it's a joy to watch, because Duvivier is a master of shadows and movement.
Julien Duvivier Viviane Romance, Michel Simon, Max Dalban, Émile Drain, Guy Favières Julien Duvivier Rialto Pictures

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