eyelights: Catherine Frot. André Dussollier. its exploration of the dynamics between the two leads.
eyesores: its episodic nature. the ridiculous third act.
2012’s ‘Associés contre le crime…’ is the third in a series of Agatha Christie adaptations by Pascal Thomas, starring Catherine Frot and André Dussollier. It is based on “The Case of the Missing Lady” from Christie’s 1929 collection of short stories, ‘Partners in Crime’ – which, interestingly, was published in two parts in France, as ‘Le crime est notre affaire‘ and ‘Associés contre le crime…’.
It’s a loose affair this time around, with the original material barely recognizable beneath the picture’s concerns with aging and mortality. It finds Prudence and Bélisaire Beresford retired, with Bélisaire publishing ‘Mission secrète’, an autobiographical account of his career exploits, and Prudence feeling disused, receiving no acknowledgement for her part in Bélisaire’s many successes.
This leads her to an escape to their expansive country home, for self-reflection and reinvigoration, although she finds her son-in-law there with the twins, having been ditched by the Beresfords’ daughter. This leads her into a few moments of melancholy, as she can find no place in the world for herself. That is, until a General that she and Bélisaire know offers her a gig at one of his detective agencies.
She renames her branch Prudence et Cie and soon gets a client who is looking for his fiancé, a rich Russian heiress who has mysteriously disappeared. But Prudence is on the case, and Bélisaire helps her try to track down the heiress, in what amounts to their most unusual mystery of them all – one that Agatha Christie herself probably never could have imagined.
I enjoyed the sober opening of the picture, even if it dimmed the delightful dynamic that the Beresfords enjoyed in the first two entries in the series. Prudence’s concerns are not exactly uncommon ones: the spouse feeling unheralded, needing to step out from under the shadows of her/his partner; being unable to escape the troubles of one’s children; the effects of aging and fading youth.
In some ways, I suspect that the target audience for these films likely relate to some of the characters in this way, hence why so much time is spent on this. However, the writers did this in an awkward way: after much hemming and hawing, Prudence suddenly finds an easy way out, her daughter returns mysteriously (and off-screen, at that), and the quest for eternal youth turns into a joke.
And that’s when the whole thing unravels.
Suddenly, for the third act, the picture hinges on some sort of occult nonsense, tearing apart the flimsy credibility that it had to that point. Forget all the clues, because we can’t solve this mystery – it’s completely unsolvable. While the whole ending appears to have been meant to be frivolous, light, amusing, instead it feels tacked on – while the proper plot is rushed to a close for reasons unknown.
What in the world happened? Why would they jump the shark the way that they did?
It was bad enough that the picture felt more episodic (ex: the daughter’s disappearance was a throwaway subplot, Prudence visits her acrobat father at his circus, Prudence gets drunk with Belisaire). and less plot-based than the last two, but to turn the whole affair into a ridiculous joke was not just an insult to its audience, it lacked the class that one would expect from anything connected to Agatha Christie.
In fact, the ending disappointed me so much that I was really tempted to rate it much lower than I did. But the fact remains that the first part is decent enough. Should I dock the whole film because of its ending? Or is it salvageable to some degree? If one takes a hard stance on the matter, I’d have to rate it a 4.5. But if one is able to just go with the moment and enjoy it for what it is, perhaps a 7.5 might do.
But I give it a 6.75, because I did enjoy many aspects of it. Still, it’s my least favourite of this Beresford trilogy.
Interestingly, ‘Associés contre le crime…’ was subtitled “L’oeuf d’ambroise”, which suggests that the filmmakers were considering a continuation of the series under the main title of ‘Associés contre le crime’ -a fitting title indeed- with a new subtitle for each of the mysteries. But it’s apparently not to be: it is said that Frot and Thomas have had a falling out, leaving little chance for a fourth entry.
Based on the way that this was going, it’s probably better this way; it might conceivably have taken an even loopier direction in the next one, giving us ‘Prudence and Bélissaire and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ (for instance). And I’m very sad to say this, because, quite sincerely, I was having a good time watching Catherine Frot and André Dussollier play off of each other in the inimitable way that they do.
They were terrific partners in crime.
Date of viewing: November 11, 2014