The setting is a provincial town in France – a place so far out in the country that married couples do not get divorced like in the big city; no, here they stay together till death do them part. And if a husband and wife are fed up with each other, they find a way for death to part them!
53-year-old Paul Braconnier, a horticulturist, can no longer stand his wife, who (among other things) has taken to drinking. Every day at dinner time, Braconnier comes home and turns on the radio, which is always playing a happy love song. Braconnier and his wife then scowl their way through dinner, their decided lack of domestic bliss being thrown into sharp comic relief by the cheerful music.
Braconnier discusses his discontents with the local vicar, and tries to stay away from home as much as possible. One day he hears a radio broadcast about a successful lawyer who’s gotten 100 clients acquitted. The lawyer relays that he distinguishes sharply between “murderers” and “assassins”, the difference being that an assassin has planned (pre-meditated) his murder, while the simple murderer typically commits a crime of passion, perhaps in a manner where there was no other way out, like self-defense.
Braconnier eyes an opportunity, and does something too clever by half. He visits the lawyer, claiming that he has already killed his wife, and lets the lawyer’s experienced comments on the case outline all the details that will lead to his acquittal, which he then goes home to perform! As luck will have it, Braconnier’s wife is also planning to kill him by way of rat poison, which fits very neatly into the scheme.
La Poison is a darkly satirical comedy about what can happen when a slightly corrupt lawyer (because many of the “murderers” he got acquitted are, of course “assassins”) encounters a nice bit of provincial peasant cunning. Braconnier is a jovial murderer that we can’t help rooting for, just a bit, but of course the message of the movie is that the justice system doesn’t work very well. And that lawyers shouldn’t discuss their judicial techniques in public, because some people might take advantage of them.
The basic idea in the movie is a good one, and it certainly holds the attention, but it also does come across as rather dated. Or maybe it’s just very, very French. Much of the dialogue doesn’t really further the plot, but is chit-chat without much significance, which can become tiresome. The story reads more like a play than a movie, but I have never found this to be a problem with this sort of movies.
The first ten minutes of this black-and-white movie are spent introducing the actors as themselves, in a theatre-like environment. The director says that no one can tell him that cinema isn’t theatre, and he proceeds to tell the cast how amazing they all are, esp. main character Michel Simon, with whom he has wanted to work for a long time.
The new Blu-ray release is a real beauty; the picture is restored to stellar crispness, and it comes with a booklet containing writings on the movie. The disc also contains a 60-minute documentary about the movie, made in 2010.
La Poison is out on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK today, February 25.
Director: Sacha Guitry
Cast: Michel Simon, Germaine Reuver, Jean Debucourt and others.
Runtime: 85 min.