Swiss writer-director Claude Goretta has such a wry, detached style that his movies remain emotionally noncomittal and uninvolving. Like his second feature, "The Invitation," his third, "Pas si mechant queca," retitled "The Wonderful Crook" for American release a disposition that may be too fastidious to be dramatically effective.
It's evident that care and intelligence have gone into planning and shooting every scene in "Crook" (the original title calls for a colloquial rendering like "It Could Be Worse" or "It's Not As Bad As That"), but this workmanship tends to become its own reward.Goretta's detachment does't so much enhance an ironically revealing viewpoint as cover up a disinelination to identify with the passions and follies of his characters.
Gerad Depardieu stars as a well-meaning, inexeperienced, desperate young family man who comes into a debt-ridden inheritance, a small furniture manufacturing business, after his father is disable by a stroke. A number of interesting plots might have grown out of this premise. Goretta demonstrates, questionable judgment right at the start by arbitrarily ignoring the ordinary, legal options that might be open to his protagonist. Depardieu launches a career in armed robbery after taking one worried look at a file of invoices.
Although Goretta leaves out the conventional preparation, he still expects the hero to arouse conventional sympathies. Unfortunately, there's something more feckless than sympathetic about a character who turns to crime as a first and only resort. Even the facetious, crudely calculated "Fun With Dick and Jane" did a better job of rationalizing criminal motives for dramatic purposes.
The robberies committed by Depardieu's charater seem hopelessly open-ended as well as rash. Since he has no plan for reviving the business - in fact, between heists he's kept busy destroying furniture made for presumably bogus orders - there is no end in sight to this makeshift technique for meeting payrolls.
A tone as dispassionate as Goretta's probably demands material so transparently dramatic that any additional manipulation from the director would feel superfluous. His detachment might be ironically expressive if the incidents and characters really spoke for themselves. They don't speak with any particular force or clarity. "The Wonderful Crook" falls short as several possible stories: a story about coping with business trouble, a story about the way middle-class men are conditioned to respond to adversity, a story about white-collar crime, a story about a love affair nurtured by crime, a story about maintaing a double life.
Depardieu becomes romantically involved with a woman he attempts to rob - Marlene Jobert as a post office clerk. Eventually, she becomes his accomplice. Goretta might have simplifield things by keeping the conspiracy and love affairs to home. The bookkeeper for the hero's company looks like a handler candidate for mistress-accomplice.
Dominique Labourier, cast as Depardieu's unsuspecting wife, also seems better suited to the role of accomplice than Jobert. One could believe in Labourier's toughness and resourcefulness.