Michel Blanc manages a most sympathetic portrait of a reclusive voyeur, a pallid little peeper with an undertaker's personality, in the French thriller "Monsieur Hire." A mysterious tale of corneal desire based on a novel by Georges Simenon, it raises the blinds on the man in the "Rear Window."
Sandrine Bonnaire, who came to prominence as the tortured teen in "Vagabond," plays Alice, feast for the eyes turned femme fatale. A spooky sort of beauty, Alice actually enjoys the attentions of the pathetic Hire, a repressed tailor whose only real pleasure -- aside from watching Alice -- is bowling. A crack pin-jouster, he can bowl a strike forward, backward or blindfolded.
When a young woman is murdered, a dogged police inspector (Andre Wilms) suspects Hire (Blanc), who is largely unpopular in his neighborhood. But he has no evidence and so begins to watch the watcher as he sits all night long, his nose to the pane. This pensive game of cat and mouse becomes all the more baffling when Alice sees Hire in his window, a ghostly head in a lightning bolt on a stormy night. Though she is engaged to a fine young bull, she goes about seducing the eerie Hire. Pourquoi?
Quirks, not twists, propel the plot to a Hitchcockian climax. It's nothing to make the head spin, exactly, but there is the feel of Rebecca's ghost lurking in the closet. As directed and cowritten by Patrice Leconte, "Monsieur Hire" reflects upon misguided loyalty and better having loved and lost. Filmed in a drained, bloodless kind of color, the mystery has the look of film noir, all timeless shadows and tortured souls.
There's a funereal beauty to "Monsieur Hire," a creepy appreciation for all the toads who've peered at princesses from their loathsome pads, only to find that it is not they but the princesses who cause a plague of warts upon the soul.
Monsieur Hire, at the Key, in French with English subtitles, is rated PG-13.