Panique, a French film that translates to panic, is a 1947 crime thriller directed by Julien Duvivier, which has been adapted from Belgium novelist Georges Simenon. In this restoration by The Criterion Collection, Panique differs from the source. Discussed by Pierre Simenon (son of Georges) and two film theorists Guillemette Odicino and Eric Libiot, Duvivier changed main character Monsieur Hire played by Michel Simon quite simply, a lot.
Duvivier was a friend of Alfred Hitchcock, admired by Orson Welles and regarded by Ingmar Bergman as his inspiration for making films. But politically he had a hard time. Labeled a traitor and a spy, Duvivier was under attack for leaving France during WW2 and working in the United States where other French directors remained in the country. While, the variety of genres and techniques in his filmmaking conflicted with the French New Wave. Opposing the sole manifesto of auterism, Duvivier could not be pigeonholed to a particular aesthetic.
After the war, Duvivier returned home and made Panique regarded as his darkest works. Panique should really be a simply whodunit. In a neighborhood of Paris it begins with a dead body belonging to a middle aged woman, the narrative quickly progresses into something more sinister. It is about the hysteria of a community, resulting in a mob violence that causes serious harm to the wrong person. That is victim Monsieur Hire. The only crime that Hire has in fact committed is being Jewish and an outsider.
Discussed in the extras, the real juxtaposition is between adaptations through Hire’s character. Before getting to know Hire’s motivations you do question his unsettling behavior especially towards ex-jailbird Alice (Viviane Romance). In the narrative Alice returns to Paris to meet her former lover Alfred (Paul Bernard) and gets involved with the murder mystery. From her window, Alice sees Hire spying and following her. However, it does not take long in Panique to explain why this is. Helping to ease the tension and solidifying him as the victim.
Yet, as Pierre Simenon suggests, in the Simenon novel Hire is creepier and has been involved in more sinister activities such as being a former pornographer. Thus perhaps making his tragic situation in the novel, less tragic.
Panique’s progression of hysteria and public humiliation by the community is beautifully executed. Duvivier gives you a sense of being part of the violence through the film’s awkward crane shots, angled positions and use of space. You are in the crowd and part of Hire’s world, which is claustrophobic or belongs to a larger scale of pain.
I have chosen not to reveal the narrative in detail, as it would be a spoiler, even though you are given the facts straight away. That being said, this is what makes Panique a unique film and a film you get to sit back and soak in its calculating tragedy.
Drama, World Cinema | France, 1946 | 12| Subtitles | Blu-ray | 21st January 2019 (UK) | Criterion Collection | Dir.Julien Duvivier | Viviane Romance, Michel Simon, Max Dalban
SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES
New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
The Art of Subtitling, a new short documentary by Bruce Goldstein, founder and co-president of Rialto Pictures, about the history of subtitles
New interview with author Pierre Simenon, the son of novelist Georges Simenon
Conversation from 2015 between critics Guillemette Odicino and Eric Libiot about director Julien Duvivier and the film’s production history
Rialto Pictures re-release trailer
New English subtitle translation by Duvivier expert Lenny Borger
PLUS: Essays by film scholar James Quandt and Borger
FRANCE | 1946 | 98 MINUTES | 1.37:1 | FRENCH