This unjustly overlooked entry in Alain Resnais’s filmography is both
an illuminatingly accurate representation of a dark pass in French
history and the kind of formally adventurous movie one might expect
from the director of Hiroshima Mon Amour. The film deals with the
months leading up to the death of the financier and embezzler Alexandre
Stavisky on January 8, 1934, the mysterious circumstances of
which led to riots and the fall of France’s radical leftist government.
Resnais places Stavisky’s increasingly brazen schemes and eventual
downfall in parallel with Leon Trotsky’s exile in France, creating a
chilling picture of a tipping point in European history when utopian
socialist hopes gave way to fascism and idealism succumbed to cynicism.
Yet the film is also a deeply engrossing psychological portrait of
a Gatsby-like character obsessed with death but otherwise convinced
the world will bend to his will. Jean-Paul Belmondo plays Stavisky
with impervious charm, gliding through five-star hotels and resort
towns while Franco, Mussolini, and Hitler prepare to terrorize Europe.
Yet for all its disturbingly timely analysis of the machinations of power,
Stavisky is a sumptuous cinematic experience, beautifully photographed
by Resnais’s faithful director of photography Sacha Vierny and
scored by Stephen Sondheim.
France, Italy, 1974
DCP, DVD, Blu-Ray