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MOVIE REVIEWS : Pieces of Puzzle Fit in Tense 'Pouvoir Intime'

November 25, 1987|KEVIN THOMAS | Times Staff Writer

Not since the classic "Rififi" has there been so perfect a caper picture as Yves Simoneau's "Pouvoir Intime" (Monica 4-Plex). Everything in this terrific French-Canadian film fits together like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, yet nothing seems contrived, for the plot develops rigorously from a remorseless interplay of character and fate.

Actually, "Pouvoir Intime" ("Blind Trust") is a "Rififi" in reverse. Whereas the heist in that Jules Dassin-directed film was a perfect crime that went awry after the fact, the holdup of an armored truck in this film goes wrong at the start of the picture. The films are alike, however, in their low-key but ever-increasing tension, their bleak film noir atmosphere and existentialist mood and their documentary-like aura of authenticity.

The burglary is born of desperation rather than careful planning. The coke-sniffing head of security (Yvan Ponton) at the ministry of justice in Montreal must obtain at all costs a certain bag that will be in a certain armored truck on a certain date. Presumably the contents of the bag point to his criminal past. He strong-arms Meursault (Jean-Louis Millette), a veteran cop nearing retirement, to recruit Theo (Jacques Godin), a middle-aged stool pigeon about to leave prison, to assemble a gang and do the job. Theo's generous payment will be whatever else is in the truck outside the mysterious bag. The first person Theo lines up is Gildor (Pierre Curzi), his former cellmate, who now operates a small theater in a vast, largely abandoned old warehouse on the outskirts of Montreal.

"Power, passion and beauty" are the words inscribed on a restaurant toilet stall and read, with a quiet smile of recognition, by Roxanne (Marie Tifo), Theo's ex-girlfriend who has agreed to join his gang. Simoneau, who wrote his script with Curzi, doesn't push it, but perhaps it's the pursuit of these sentiments that drives the members of Theo's gang, which includes his own 17-year-son Robin (Eric Brisebois). Whatever their underlying, possibly subconscious motives may be, almost everyone is involved out of either love or obligation or both.

Simoneau tells us everything we need to know but no more than that, and his film, a wonder of economy and discipline, is so ingenious and involving that nothing more should be revealed about it. (His characters also know no more than we do, hence the film's title.) Let's just say that Simoneau hit upon an inspired premise and builds and builds upon it with the airtight logic and credibility so essential to suspense thrillers. The only familiar actors are Tifo, the worn, wry Modigliani-like beauty who starred in "Good Riddance" ("Les bons debarras"), possibly the finest of all French-Canadian films, and the plain, rugged Curzi, seen recently in "The Decline of the American Empire" and "Marie Chapdelaine." The entire cast is as flawless as they are.

"Pouvoir Intime," which benefits greatly from Richard Gregoire's edgy score is the rare film that presents non-stereotypical gay characters without comment, which is the most lifelike way to present members of any minority on the screen. If the film has a hero, it's one of the armored truck's guards, the big, lumbering Martial (Robert Gravel), a figure of courage, tenacity and resourcefulness who is also hopelessly in love with the waiter Janvier (Jacques Lussier). On the surface, "Pouvoir Intime" (rated PG-13 for some bloodshed, strong language), as a thriller, is atypical for a French-Canadian film, but actually it is a small-scaled drama of relationships and emotions in the finest tradition of the Quebecois cinema.

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