“A Pure Formality” (1994)

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As one might have guessed, I’m a huge fan of Giallo. When I heard of a crime thriller starring Roman Polanski and Gerard Depardieu, and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, (director of Cinema Paradiso) I couldn’t wait to see it. The result is a film the blurs the lines of reality and fantasy, as well as what’s real and what isn’t. To top it all off, a battle of wits between two of the film industries most recognizable names.  A Pure Formality , is truly an underrated gem.

Here’s the story, a writer named Onoff (played by Depardieu) is brought in late one night, to an isolated police station after he’s found wandering in the woods completely disoriented. He’s interrogated by the stations Inspector (played by Polanski) in a viscous chess game of wits, in an attempt to uncover the truth regarding a recent murder. The audience is kept in the dark from the beginning of the film, we only learn about the facts as the interrogation progresses. Little by little we slowly put the pieces of the puzzle together, just as the inspector does during the interrogation. Throughout the film, Onoff tries to recover memories from the previous day, which change slightly with each recollection. The character on screen, as well as the viewer has the task of judging what is real, and what is  fantasy.

There is an element to this film, one might overlook that makes it all the more powerful. The whole series of events take place within the police station itself. Keeping the majority of a story in a confined space is something Polanski is an expert at, so he knows exactly what to bring to his performance. The bulk of the films atmosphere rests on the way him and Depardieu play off of one another, as well as  the inability of the audience to get a firm grasp on the events as they unfold.

Polanski’s acting ability came a long way from him cutting Jack Nicholson’s nose in Chinatown.

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