Chasing Caine

Michael Caine as Vichy official Pierre Brossard in The Statement (courtesy photo)
The film adaptation of Brian Moore's novel translates to an intelligent thriller

In the black-and-white prologue to The Statement, it is a dismal night in Dombey, France, in 1944. Seven Jews are rousted from their homes, lined up against a wall, and shot to death. Following the credits, the time is 1992, and Pierre Brossard, the Vichy official who collaborated with the Nazis in the Dombey massacre, is desperately trying to elude assassination. Confronted on an isolated road in Provence, Brossard manages to shoot his failed assailant first. On the stranger's body, he finds the printed statement that gives the film its title - that Pierre Brossard, whom the Catholic Church had been shielding from retribution, was finally executed by Jewish commandos for being a Nazi and a murderer.

In his 1996 novel, The Statement, Brian Moore drew loosely on the case of Paul Touvier, a Vichy official implicated in atrocities who, though pardoned by President Georges Pompidou and shielded by the Catholic Church, was eventually convicted of crimes against humanity. An intelligent thriller, Norman Jewison's film adaptation follows the aging, ailing Brossard as he seeks sanctuary from his enemies within a succession of abbeys and absolution for his sins within his pious faith. Michael Caine's Brossard is the portrait of a wily survivor who, in a world of hypocrites and opportunists, can trust no one but himself.

The Statement

Dir. Norman Jewison; writ. Ronald Harwood, Brian Moore (novel); feat. Michael Caine, Tilda Swinton, Jeremy Northam, Alan Bates, Charlotte Rampling (R)

Most conspicuous among Brossard's pursuers is Anne-Marie Livi (Swinton), an idealistic young magistrate who refuses to be deterred from belated justice for the Dombey victims. Livi realizes that sympathetic police officers helped Brossard evade arrest in 1945 and that arcane forces within the Church, who themselves colluded with the Nazis, have provided him safe but temporary havens. Along with an army officer, Colonel Roux (Northam), she leads an independent operation to capture Brossard before agents of a shadowy network of hit men can get to him. She discovers that a powerful figure in French politics takes a special interest in Brossard's fate. "When the law and politics collide," a government minister warns Livi, "the law will always come off worst." Livi and the viewer gradually learn how devious are the politics of self-protection.

Except for the prologue, in which German soldiers are heard speaking their native tongue, The Statement relies on the convention that, though its actors deliver their lines in English, we are to understand that the characters are really speaking French. It works as well as would a spaghetti Western in which frontier desperados defy one another in Italian. However, a local constable explains to Colonel Roux that the third bullet in the corpse he found beside a road in Provence was the "coup de grâce." He mispronounces the final word "grah," as if his only contact with anything French were pâté de foie. Aside from that small gaffe, The Statement makes its subtle points with maximum efficiency and cinematic grace. •

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