Cavalier’s Nervy Le combat dans l’ile a Dizzying Array of Dialectics


Best known in the U.S. for his bracingly Brechtian, pre-Dogville Thérèse (a 1986 staging of the life of St. Thérèse of Lisieux against minimalist sets), Alain Cavalier’s back catalog remains obscure. His first feature, 1962’s Le combat dans l’ile, isn’t a lost masterpiece—it’s too unstable for that—but it’s fascinatingly nervy. Right-wing militant Clément (Jean-Louis Trintignant) broods around the house, concerned that wife Anne (Romy Schneider) is acting like a slut. Clément’s a man of contradictions; when the negotiations he’s conducting on behalf of workers at his father’s factory break down, Clément grabs his bazooka and heads out to assassinate a politician. As that token summary implies, Combat isn’t overly concerned with coherence or a smooth arc. Instead, it’s a dizzying array of dialectics: Anne’s discovery of the bazooka against the background of her maid singing Offenbach is the neatest (and least extreme) reduction of revolutionary vs. counterrevolutionary dynamics here. Pierre Lhomme’s scintillating, jagged black-and-white cinematography is ahead of its time, and the film’s unexpectedly bifurcated structure sends Trintignant into the ether for almost the entire back half. There’s a surprise every five minutes, except when fascism gets its ass kicked at the end.