Panique (1946) - Julien Duvivier
An aesthetic rich in noir sensibilities, Julien Duvivier's Panique is a stunning achievement from both technical and storytelling perspectives; a film which transverses the narrative threads typically associated with murder mystery to reveal itself as a harrowing warning against the intrinsic tribalism of mob mentality, collectivist-thought, and perceived social "justice". A story of shifting allegiances, deception, and intrigue, Panique's story takes place in the suburbs of Paris, where the murder of an old maid has sent the town into a frenzy, desperate to get to the bottom of this grisly crime. Far from the typical murder mystery, Panique is a story in which the crime itself borders on near insignificance, with the film focused much more on examining the sociological effects such a crime has on a small town, using three characters in Mr Hire, the misanthropic recluse of the town, as well as Alfred and Alice, two petty criminals and companions, to weave its harrowing tale. What divulges between these three characters throughout the course of this narrative is a deadly game of cat-and-mouse, which finds Alfred, the man responsible for the murder, weaponizing his significant other, Alice, in an attempt to rid Mr. Hire from his trail. Through this game, in which Alice becomes close with Mr. Hire in an attempt to learn what he knows about Arthur, Julien Duvivier's Panique reveals how female agency itself was almost exclusively derived through feminine objectification, showcasing in Alice a character who uses her physical form to manipulate Mr. Hire. Her only true power is derived by her beauty, which in turn gives her the ability to manipulate Mr. Hire, a man whom seems otherwise unmovable or unshakable in his convictions- something which is perhaps best presented by the sharp contrast between how Mr. Hire's demeanor when he converses one-on-one with Arthur. In this exchange, Mr. Hire is presented as the character with all the power, in complete control both mentally and physically over Arthur, yet this sense of empowerment and control completely dissipates in his interactions with the beautiful Alice, one in which he is at her will feminine agency. The misanthropic Mr. Hire, a character who at first is presented as potentially dangerous early on, comes to be revealed as a man with a tragic past, with Alice's long-winded deception and attempted seduction being the catalyst which forces her to get to know the man behind the reclusive, stoic exterior. In spending time with him, she gets to know him on a personal level, learning that Mr. Hire is an individual whose seclusion is intentional due to past trauma related to the death of a loved one he cared deeply for. Rare for a crime story, Panique's narrative designates very little time to primary police investigator, a man whom himself is entirely regulated to the background of this story, an intentional decision, one which reinforces the significance of clever manipulation, with the town itself being more swayed by gossip and rumors devilishly placed in their ear by Alfred, who is attempting to cover himself, than by justice itself. Mr. Hire's fate is sealed by the pompous, preconceived notion of the mob members of the town, individuals whom know nothing about him on a personal level but wish to define him based off their preconceived notions of what his behavior means. He is a shut-in, misanthropic, someone who is different than everyone else in town, so it makes it easy to vilify, demonize, and frame this character as the man responsible, with Alice's newfound understanding of the man behind the public image driving her to a place of extreme guilt about what she and Alfred have done. We the audience are aware of Mr. Hire's innocence long before the ill-fated and tragic finale, a fact which makes the hysteria and assured nature of the general populace's actions all the more chilling, as Julien Duvivier's Panique provides a powerful reminder about the importance of due process and utterly-essential nature of justice itself being void of all preconceived notions or bias.
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