Alain Cavalier’s Le Combat dans l’ile is the most unexpected French New Wave artifact that I belatedly discovered in the last year when it arrived on DVD. I reviewed it for the TCM website.
A New Wave thriller that time almost forgot, the 1962 feature debut of Alain Cavalier was all but unknown in the U.S. until its 2009 revival. That is remained unseen for so long is surprising considering its credentials–produced and “supervised” by Louis Malle, starring a glamorous cast of sixties stars and shot with the cool B&W look of Malle’s early sixties thrillers–and its fascinating twists into a fascist underground and emotional obsession.
Part skewed political thriller and part extreme romantic triangle, this portrait in obsession, betrayal and self-righteous vengeance is truly surreal, a film of primal emotions (jealousy and rage topping the list) presented through chilly surfaces and a cool remove. Cavalier’s portrait of the fascist cabal has a deadpan surrealism to it, with scenes of French businessmen in training like grown men playing at war, followed by a beer-hall celebration where they carouse as if they’ve just come off a round of golf. The sober tone only points up the childishness of their activity, like some sick secret society where weapons practice and a lecture on fascist ideology just whet the appetite for a cold one with the boys.