Last night I finally saw Roman Polanski’s “J’Accuse” (aka An Officer and a Spy). Yes, I watched it illegally, but we’ll never see it in this country because of the #MeToo Khmer Rouge prohibition of all things Polanski and so I figured, okay, just this one time. Actually I also watched Woody Allen‘s A Rainy Day in Manhattan illegally, and with the same justification.
In any event I watched it on the 65-incher in 1080p with English subtitles, and my God, the “holy shit, this is great” and “why can’t more films be this good?” current. The 86 year-old Polanski is undimmed…he seems to be as commanding and bull’s-eye as when he made Repulsion, Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, etc.
J’Accuse has been crafted with absolute surgical genius…a lucid and exacting and spot-on retelling of an infamous episode…a sublime atmospheric and textural recapturing of 1890s “belle epoque” Paris, and such a meticulous, hugely engrossing reconstruction of the Dreyfus affair…a tale told lucidly…a clue-by-clue, layer-by-layer thing.
You know what J’Accuse is? A bedtime comfort flick — comforting because it’s so damned good.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but it’s a tale of anti-Semitism and a rigged conviction for treason, an innocent man condemned to Devil’s Island, nationalist rightwing groupthink, suppression of the truth and the punishment of those who would bring the perversion to light.
Most of us know the basic bones, but Polanski’s film is absolutely riveting because of the detailed approach that he applies to each and every character, setting, line, costume, light source and choice of location. Adult-level subtlety to die for.
It’s my idea of a perfect film in every respect — Polanski and Robert Harris‘s brilliant screenplay, the ace-level production design by Jean Rabasse and art direction by Dominique Moisan, Pawel Edelman‘s naturally lighted cinematography, Alexandre Desplat‘s music…every single element is aces. Polanski concentrates on elements that 99% of today’s directors would run screaming from. The discovery portion of the film is all about ripped-up letters pasted back together, bureaucratic records, folders, etc.
Jean Dujardin’s lead performance as Georges Picqart, the intelligence officer who uncovered the frame-up, is easily his career-best. Ditto Louis Garrel as Dreyfus plus Emmanuelle Seigner, Mathieu Amalric, Melvil Poupaud, Eric Ruf, Laurent Stocker, etc. And with everyone under the constraints of the era, of having to hold themselves erect and behave in a stiffly correct manner.
I was especially taken having recently endured Justin Kurzel’s True History of the Kelly Gang (IFC Films, 4.24), which looks and feels like nothing more than a director re-inventing and re-stylizing the past in order to show off and look cool. I got through it but not without frustration.
J’Accuse is a textural, cerebral masterpiece, and yet one of the most affecting anti-racism films ever made. The sight of the Parisian nationalists and anti-Semites cheering on the lying military brass…the MAGA redhats of their day.
Yes, J’Accuse is intended as a modern-day parable. A movie about the evils of mobthink and mob justice — the rightwing kind that prevailed in Paris 125 years ago, and an obvious echo of what’s been happening here for the last three of four years.
I’m not persuaded that Polanski’s accusers are cut from the same cloth as those who condemned Alfred Dreyfus, but RoPo says in the film’s press notes that “I can see the same determination to deny the facts and condemn me for things I have not done…I am familiar with many of the workings of the apparatus of persecution shown in the film, and that has clearly inspired me.”
There’s no disputing that Polanski behaved horribly with two or three (more?) women in the ‘70s, above and beyond the matter of Samantha Geimer. There’s nonetheless something fundamentally diseased about banning great art…about suppressing one of the sharpest and most exactingly reconstructed historical films ever made.
The last time I checked many people were capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. Brilliant film, personally flawed director — simple enough.
I wish I could buy a subtitled Region 2 French Bluray right now. Or legally stream it. But right now I can’t and the temptation was just too great.
Jean Dujardin as Georges Picqart in Roman Polanski’s J’Accuse!