Le Combat Dans L’ile Blu-ray Review: An Overlooked Surprise by an Underrated Filmmaker

I love film noir and always enjoy its complex, seedy characters; straightforward but nonetheless entertaining plots; and shadowy atmosphere. This is usual for American cinema. However, international cinema has had its fair share of noir success, especially in French film. One of its overlooked surprises is underrated filmmaker Alain Cavalier’s 1962 debut Le Combat Dans L’ile starring icons Romy Schneider, Jean-Louis Trintignant, and Henri Serre.

Set against the turning point of ’60s political intrigue, the film centers on Clement Lesser (an against-type Trintignant), a macho (and often violent) member of a right-wing extremist group who becomes involved in an assassination attempt. After being betrayed by a member of his gang, he and his gorgeous (and sometimes put-upon) wife Anne (Schneider in a devastating performance) flee to the country home of his childhood friend Paul (a quietly subdued Serre), a gentle pacifist. When Clement leaves to seek revenge, Anne finds herself drawn to Paul. They both end up in a relationship where she becomes pregnant. Their bliss is obviously limited, especially when Clement shows up…and wants her back.

Produced by the late, great Louis Malle (who would go to have his own fantastic directing career), the film’s plot isn’t totally original, but it benefits from having a grimier edge than most movies of its kind, thanks to its themes of political chaos, fractured romance (complete with bleak love triangle) and domestic roughness that makes it thrilling and risky. It also succeeds due to its amazing cast headlined by Schneider, Trintignant, and Serre, who all give amazing performances, which would lead them to given greater roles and films. (Look out for pioneering Black filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles in an uncredited cameo as a club goer near the beginning of the film.)

If you love French cinema and film noir, then you may want to seek out “Le Combat” because it’s a ’60s gem with so much going on underneath the surface, and is also unfortunately relevant in today’s hotly and politically charged climate.

Radiance Films’ wonderful Blu-ray has a 1962 interview with Cavalier; a 2011 commentary featurette by Cavalier; 1983 interview with Trintignant; a 2020 interview/analysis by French critic Philippe Roger; two short films by Cavalier: Un américain (1958) and France 1961 (2010); photo gallery from Malle’s archives; and trailer. There’s also a booklet with great new essays by critic Ben Sachs and scholar Mani Sharpe.

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