L’Adversaire: Living a Lie

Have you ever called your husband’s workplace and asked for him? Have you ever met his work mates? Have you ever attended one of his office parties? If not, then maybe you should make sure to do that before it’s too late. The case of Jean-Claude Romand is reason to give you pause. The 1993 murder case that shook France inspired Laurent Cantet’s Time Out (2001), but this film is closer to the truth and stands as the definitive screen presentation of the Romand case.

Jean-Marc Faure (Daniel Auteuil) and his wife Christine (Géraldine Pailhas) have been married for several years. They are an affluent couple and he has a glamorous job as a doctor at the World Health Organization in Geneva. Together they have two young children. Jean-Marc is a quiet man, but well-liked by his friends and family who have given him large sums of money over the years, hoping that his talent for financial investments will make the funds grow. However, Jean-Marc is living a lie. He’s not a doctor with the WHO; he doesn’t have a job at all. Every day when he goes to work he spends his hours visiting the WHO headquarters as a guest, or reading the paper in coffee shops, or just sitting in his car staring.

Whenever his friends or Christine want to visit his workplace he comes up with a good explanation of why that isn’t possible right now. Sometimes money is a problem, but his friends’ trust in him makes it possible for Jean-Marc to spend their life savings on a lavish house and a new car, in order to keep up appearances. He’s an artist when it comes to making this life of lies work, but Jean-Marc knows that it won’t go on forever.

Jumping back and forth
It is no secret what happens on that horrible day when the main character is close to being exposed as a fraud. The real Jean-Marc, Romand, killed his wife, children and parents and then tried to commit suicide but failed and is now serving a life sentence.

Director Nicole Garcia and her fellow screenwriters jump back and forth in the narration. The first scene takes place a short while after Jean-Marc shoots his kids; it’s a classic set-up for the story, meant to generate suspense right from the start and give clues here and there to the character of Jean-Marc Faure. The filmmakers don’t really succeed in explaining what makes him tick… but that’s the thing. We can’t understand a person like Faure/Romand, how he could live his life the way he did for so many years and how he could commit those atrocious crimes in the end. All the filmmakers can do is present the facts and make a few interpretations of what happened. It is indeed a very chilling portrait of this family, one that shows how much damage blind love and trust can do… but what’s a relationship without trust?

A key ingredient in the success of the movie is Auteuil’s performance; he is allowed to dominate the film much the same way as Catherine Deneuve did in the director’s Place Vendôme (1998). Auteuil’s understated style and average looks fit the part, but he also subtly gives the impression that Faure has such a tight grip on self-control that he could explode any minute.

It’s fascinating and even amusing to watch Faure handle his life, but there’s also a lot of sadness here. In a scene right after the murders, he breaks down and starts crying, his head buried in one of his kids’ jackets. It’s a rare display of emotion; the filmmakers and Auteuil otherwise choose to have Faure look like he’s committing his crimes in a daze. A hint of an explanation… but the questions continue to haunt us. 

L’Adversaire 2002-France-Switzerland-Spain. 129 min. Color. Produced by Alain Sarde. Directed by Nicole Garcia. Screenplay: Nicole Garcia, Frédéric Bélier-Garcia, Jacques Fieschi. Novel: Emmanuel Carrère. Cast: Daniel Auteuil (Jean-Marc Faure), Géraldine Pailhas (Christine Faure), François Cluzet (Luc), Emmanuelle Devos, Alice Fauvet, Martin Jobert.

 

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