Best Movies by Farr: Yves Montand Cubed

January 13, 2012 | John Farr

Yves Montand, who stars opposite Ingrid Bergman in this week’s Reel 13 Classic “Goodbye Again” deserves a closer look.

The Wages of Fear (1953)

Four down-on-their-luck men in a remote South American town are hired for about the most dangerous mission imaginable: dividing into pairs, they must each transport a truckload of highly explosive nitroglycerin across three hundred miles of rugged terrain. A sort of primal, perverse competition ensues, as the two sets of drivers attempt the impossible, knowing that at the next bump in the road, any or all of them could be blown sky-high.

A gut-wrenching tale from master of suspense Henri-Georges Clouzot, “Wages” is also an intense meditation on just how far dispossessed human beings will go for money, if desperate enough. The young Montand is positively magnetic in his first dramatic role as one of the four men. The film won the Grand Prize at Cannes, and actor Vanel, who plays another driver, was also singled out for his work. Fasten your seat belts, and get ready for a tense ride.

Z (1969)

Minutes before he’s to deliver an anti-nuke speech to a public crowd, pro-democracy scientist Zei (Yves Montand) is brutally attacked by right-wing extremists with close ties to the authoritarian Greek government. His death sparks a scandal, a contentious trial, and the formation of a military coup dedicated to suppressing peaceful protests and the evidence presented by an intrepid photojournalist (Jacques Peppin).

Based on the real-life assassination of peace activist Gregoris Lambrakis in 1963, Costa-Gavras’s Oscar-winning political thriller stars Jacques Peppin, Greek starlet Irene Papas (as Zei’s wife Helena), and Yves Montand, in one of his most committed and compelling dramatic performances. Sweeping us from the streets of discontent to the corrupt corridors of government power, “Z” is a visceral, nerve-wracking courtroom drama with a visual energy to match its shocking exposé of anti-democratic cover-ups and martial violence. A landmark in world cinema.

Jean de Florette (1986)

In 1920s Provence, crafty farmer Cesar (Yves Montand) and his dim-bulb nephew Ugolin (Daniel Auteuil) both covet the adjoining land, which holds a spring capable of sustaining a lucrative flower-growing business. Unfortunately, on the death of their old neighbor, one Jean Cadoret (Gerard Depardieu) inherits the acreage, and decides to farm it himself. Greedy and conniving, Cesar commits an act of treachery to which Jean becomes an unwitting victim.

Adapted from Marcel Pagnol’s two-volume novel, Claude Berri’s magnificent “Jean de Florette” (and its sequel, “Manon of the Spring”), center on the bounty we owe to water, comprising two parts of one rich story. The great Yves Montand delivers a memorable, nuanced portrayal of the scheming “Le Papet,” while the equally brilliant Depardieu tugs at the heartstrings as determined hunchback Cadoret, who struggles against impossible odds to make his farm a success . Stunningly picturesque, “Jean” reaches a high watermark for period drama.

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