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Pet Hatred

This Man Must Die

Plot Overview

I know it's heretical, but I retire early New Year's Eve figuring the calendar page will turn itself with­out any help from me, and then I rise early the next morning to a deserted land­scape … except for the squirrels foraging with­out human inter­ference. In France where they have extended holidays, this seems to be the case on 3 Janvier, a.m., where we see a little boy Michel Thenier (Stéphane Di Napoli) in Brittany (Bretagne) catching mussels alone in the shal­low surf. This scene cuts back and forth with a speeding Mustang driven by a man (seen from the back) with his girl­friend through the deserted country­side trying to get home from their assignation before any­one realizes they're gone. The funereal music on the car radio and church bells in town portend disaster as the boy clue­less climbs the stone stairs to this coastal village while the speeding car enters it unaware. As a preacher once said, (Eccl. 9:12) “For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, … so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.” The boy nets the mussels and the Mustang hits the boy. Ouch!

A friend of mine whom the newspaper dubbed ‘tree house Tom’ was squatting in a derelict garage and foraging in dumpsters for sale­able items where he came upon a stash of papers offering to match Asian women with American men. Tom and I and another friend were perusing them when we found one cute honey listed saying she wanted “a man with a garage.” “There you go, Tom!” we told him.

Michel's bereft father Charles Thenier (Michel Duchaussoy) has developed a pet hatred (bête noire) for the unknown hit-and-run driver whom the police have been unable to ident­ify (“I, full of hatred, am savoring what awaits me. His killing.”) His quest is infinitely patient (“It may take six months, or one or two years, but I'll find him.”) He develops a theory that “It's not a needle in a haystack,” he's seeking but, “more like a needle in a box of needles.” The damaged car may have intention­ally been further damaged as cover to allay suspicion of the garage. Either that, or the driver may have been a mechanic who effected repairs him­self, or he may even own a garage. Eventually he finds a witness to a damaged car of that morning able to identify the actress woman who was in it, one Hélène Lanson (Caroline Cellier) whom Charles cultivates as a lead, under the pseudonym (“faux nom”) Marc Andrieux. She is baffled by all his attention sans any moves, not knowing that what he's after is a man with a garage. Finally, so as not to seem a weirdo, a “funny man,” he feigns interest in her (“Vous êtes belle. Vous me plaisez beaucoup.”) This impromptu acting gets results, but with complications.


The flight unnoticed from the crime had been thwarted when the road was blocked and the detour ended up with them stuck in a ditch requiring a local farmer to pull them out with his tractor. His son recognized the actress (but not the man.) He later told Charles, “She's a Jonah,” some­one who brings bad luck—this derived from the freak storm the seamen attributed to their bad-luck–passenger in Jonah 1:7. Charles in his search ended up in the same ditch (“Domage”), helped by the same (talk­ative) farmer. He attributed it to luck, “Une coïncidence.”

God had commissioned Jonah to prophesy against wicked Nineveh, Jonah 1:1-2, and Charles was on a mission to find his son's killer(s), and “When he's trapped, I'll look at him with a smile, directly in the eye (‘dans les yeux’). And I'll make him deserve his death.” Jonah was so caught up in his mission that it displeased him when God spared a repen­tant Nineveh, Jonah 3:10Jonah 4:1. God then gave him an object lesson about sparing a lowly gourd, Jonah 4:10-11. This trans­ference of passion for man or beast (or plant) is intimated in the original title, “Que la Bête Meure” (“The Beast Must Die”), the opening corres­pondence between mussels & a boy expiring, and Johannes Brahms's piece, “Vier Ernste Gesänge” (“Four Serious Songs”) sung by Kathleen Ferrier near the end: “The beast must die / The man, too / One and the other must die,” which words Brahms derived from, Eccl. 3:18-21.

Charles determines that he will spare Helen (“Marc, have pity on me”) once he observes, “Her nervous break­down proves she's more a victim than at fault.” How­ever, her “ignoble” brother-in-law (“beau-frère”) Paul Decourt (Jean Yanne)—the driver who “has a garage”—, “he's rather unpleasant.” But "Marc" will have to get in line to do him in, because every­one he knows wants him dead—except his creepy mother (Raymone)—, making it also a problem for the police to sort out.

Production Values

“This Man Must Die” (1969), originally titled “Que la bête meure,” was directed by Claude Chabrol as a New Wave offering. It's a psycho­logical drama rather than a conventional thriller. Its screen­play and dialogue were done by Claude Chabrol and Paul Gégauff, being based on the novel The Beast Must Die by Nicholas Blake. It's an exis­ten­tial drama that plays out like a Greek tragedy. It stars Michel Duchaussoy, Caroline Cellier and Jean Yanne. The acting was good, but the villain one-dimensional. The somber music really set the tone with a score by Dominique Zardi, including a chanson: “La Terre”.

The scenes on the boat were all shot from the boat giving the movie consumer a queasy sensation. The English-dubbed version was flubbed, because the film is not plot-driven but relies on the actors' tone of voice. I believe the subtitled version where one hears the actual speakers is prefer­able, although it's best if you know French, of course.

Review Conclusion w/ Consumer Recommendation

I thought this movie was great for its psychological suspense and its twists and turns. It delivers in a plodding sort of way. I recommend it to those who are similarly inclined.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Decent action scenes. Suitability for Children: Suitable for children 13+ years. Special effects: Average special effects. Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day. Suspense: Keeps you on the edge of your seat. Overall product rating: Four stars out of five.