Patrice Leconte’s “Monsieur Hire” is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, telling the story of two loners who have nothing in common. It involves murder, and the opening shot is a corpse. Monsieur Hire is a thin, bald middle-aged tailor who lives alone. Alice is a beautiful and soft-hearted 22-year-old blonde girl who lives alone across the yard from Hire in the same apartment building.
On the night of the murder, a emaciated man was seen by witnesses running towards the building. In his investigations among the residents, a police detective learns that no one likes Hire. Hire was the first to agree. He admits he seems to attack people strangely. When a neighbor from across the hall peeks at him from the doorway, he asks, “Want a picture?” As he walked through his courtyard, white powder was spilled onto his perfect black suit.
Alice (Sandrine Bonnaire) is bright, open-faced, with a warm smile. One night during a thunderstorm, a flash of lightning reveals a man watching him from the shadows of the apartment opposite. It’s Hire, who watches over her for hours, night after night: Sleeping, waking up, getting dressed, undressing, ironing her clothes, making love to her boyfriend, Emile (Luc Thuillier).
What did he do when he found this? The screenplay is based on Monsieur Hire’s Involvement by Georges Simenon, but unlike its Inspector Maigret cop, it’s more of a traditional novel with carefully observed behavior and details. Simenon is fascinated by the peculiarities of the human personality, which he portrays in elegant and simple prose, not unlike Leconte’s controlled visual style here.
The film is in color, but Hire’s world is black and white: His suit, his shirt, the white mouse he keeps in the little cage in his tailor shop. His skin was so pale that he would probably never go out during the day. Alice, on the other hand, loves the color red: Her clothes, her lipstick, the ingredients for the ripe tomatoes she “drops” on the stairs so they roll over to Hire when he opens the door. Did he jump in to help her? No, he just stood and looked at her. What is the purpose of his discovery?
One day, he knocked on her door, but she didn’t answer. He must have known it was him, because he had never had any visitors and he had to realize that he had just left his own apartment. He knocks the next day, and she invites him to visit the restaurant—at the train station, which may be a hint of his thoughts. Finally he confirmed that, yes, he had seen him and his girlfriend making love. And he witnessed something else that he believed explained his sudden and unexpected hospitality towards her.
So maybe, at first. But Alice’s feelings for him grow more complicated, and she is touched by his declaration of love. His girlfriend Emile, on the other hand, is the physically abusive type whose idea of a perfect date takes him to a boxing match and ignores him. Then, when he needed to sneak out of the window quickly, he stepped first on the cradle formed by his hands, and then on his shoulders. Hire shares his secret with Alice. She used a lot of prostitutes, she told her, and when she described the brothel process her face reflected the attractiveness, perhaps that a man like Hire could have such an erotic experience and portray it sensually. But he could never visit the prostitute again, he explained, because he had fallen in love with her.
Hire is a man with many secrets. One night during the police inspector’s investigation, he took her to a bowling alley, where she struck flawlessly, even backwards between her legs, even with her eyes closed, and earned applause from regulars who had seen this before. He collects payment from the owner, joins the police at the bar, throws back a shot and says, “You see? I’m out of favor everywhere.”
What happened between Hire and Alice? In this case, how does he feel about his girlfriend, Emile? That relationship seems pretty standard for a film noir; he seems to be a stupid petty criminal, and only his loyalty can save him. His devotion to her is pointless and inappropriate, as far as we can see, and despite the numbers of sex between them, he’s too complicated to explain everything. She had never met a man whose love was deeper and more loyal (and obsessive) than Hire’s. Emile wouldn’t even be able to understand it.