Friday, September 23, 2011

An Anatomy of Barbet Schroeder's Les Tricheurs or The Cheaters (1984) 

It is troubling.

Games of chance as chances lost. Games of chance which, here, aren't actually always representative of chance. We will discover why, shortly.

There is an overly obvious sexual element added to this by Schroeder (and his screenwriters, Steve Baës and Pascal Bonitzer, if they had a hand in adding such content). The gambler loses and the gambler doesn't feel like it's enough. He wants to divest himself of everything that is him, that is with him. He walks to a secret location under the pedestrian overpass of the casino building and masturbates.

We never see such actions frontally, or obviously. Only adults, only those in the know about such things will know what is happening from observation and experience. Books tell us things. Movies tell us things. Experiences tell us things. And of course movies always tell us things, whether it is about the logic of the movies themselves, or about the logic of real life (of which movies are part). Movies can't help but tell us things.

Most importantly, perhaps, psychiatry tells us things. At least, since Freud, such things become, and have become overtly recognizable. Money or diamonds or good fortune become interchangeable as representative of aspects of the libido. The death instinct allows these things and one's sexual urges/bodily fluids/desires to be released.

The element of gambling by itself is enough. The depiction of the woman (Bulle Ogier) as good-luck charm (the number 7, and later, reversible numbers like 13 and 31, vessel, possible cheat, and throwaway is enough. The overemphasis by Schroeder's film is too much, or at least almost too much. Is the overemphasis a form of cheating, an over-emphatic authorial stamp? 

Schroeder's films frequently feature games as caricature, games as detours towards death. Just look at his record (at least in terms of plot or obvious content: the sado-masochism in that other Bulle Ogier feature, La Maîtresse (1975), the disguises, impersonations, and chases in Single White Female (1992), and Desperate Measures (1996). Murder and evasion of responsibility for that act play a singularly important part in Murder by Numbers (2002) and  Reversal of Fortune (1990). Can there be a more obvious title and a more obvious clue to the director's obsessions than Reversal of Fortune

Death as a release is a way of mocking chance and denying its role, while at the same time demanding its vengeance on the transgressor in Les Tricheurs. Elric (Jacques Dutronc), the inveterate gambler, always feels miserable when he wins. He cannot stay on top. He has to throw his luck somewhere - the harder and the faster, the better it seems it is to him. He makes his fellow gambler friends miserable because of this. They have different motivations. While their motivations include similar ones (including release of libido, ultimately), theirs is a more controlled state. I say more controlled, but I don't say far more controlled, particularly when we consider Elric's first actual cheating collaborator, Clochard (Leandro Vale), and his outburst at the end of the film. 

Cheating the casinos (with hidden cards, or remote controlled mercury-filled roulette balls) is a way not of giving up to chance, but throwing oneself away completely. It is a demand that the lover be merciless. This might explain the motivation that a lot of people have for things, from murder, robbery, fraudulent investment schemes, or many types of violent activities, including rape, especially serial rape. It is not a reason (for reason is rational) so much as motivation). 

Some people often want to get caught. The bigger, or the worse the transgression (the worst transgression in the world/obsession/addiction of gambling, is cheating), the worse the punishment (or at least the more or worse the demand is for punishment). If I may say so, with this film, one which engages in self-mockery while half-seriously unfolding its romance, Barbet Schroeder comes full-circle when considering such themes similarly represented in the masochism (particularly the masochism) and the sadism of La Maitresse.

(I realise that I could have written much more. There is much that could be elaborated, including the scowls of the characters, the use of the freeze frame and the crane shot/overhead shot in the ending and the beginning respectively, the aspects of fate and control possibly conceived in scene at the castle with the remote control car - particularly considering that this child is like Elric himself conceived as a child, growing up here and wishing to take an active part in his fate - or fatality. Hopefully my language throughout this article is not simplistic, but merely deceptively simple.)