Scribe (original title La mécanique de l’ombre) is an enjoyable noirish thriller debut by Thomas Kruithof, starring François Cluzet.
Write or Wrongby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Alcoholic accountant Duval (François Cluzet, Tell No One) has lost his job and now leads a solitary life. Out of the blue he receives a mysterious phone call from someone who calls himself Clément (Denis Podalydès), inviting him to an interview. He says he works in security and the job he offers Duval is to sit alone in an empty flat transcribing a series of cassette tapes using a typewriter, printing out the transcripts and leaving them to be collected. It’s strangely old-fashioned but something he explains as being necessary to prevent computer hacking. This boring job requires someone with Duval’s meticulous nature.
Needing the money, Duval observes all the strange conditions he’s been given and at first the tapes are of innocuous telephone conversations. But after a while what Duval hears takes a sinister turn that unnerves him. Gerfaut (Simon Abkarian), a kind of enforcer who says he is Duval’s manager, turns up without warning and proceeds to embroil Duval in an ill-fated mission that attracts the attention of the intelligence services led by Labarthe (Sami Bouajila).
Scribe is a Hitchcockian drama of an ordinary man caught up in events outside his experience and out of his control. Cluzet’s performance is restrained and sympathetic, though at times the extent to which he allows himself to be drawn into someone else’s dangerous game seems inexplicable. There’s a hinted-at burgeoning relationship with a woman from his AA meetings (Alba Rohrwacher), who is endangered by her connection with Duval. But the film really charts the mysterious downward spiral of one unexplained event leading to another until they reveal conspiracy and corruption at the heart of the state. Though the film has the feel of a homage to the thrillers of the 1970s and earlier, it has a totally contemporary twist.
Suspense drives the (violent at times) plot and ultimately all the loose ends are satisfyingly tied up. It’s an intriguing cinematic puzzle, owing something to classic films such as The Conversation, yet it would also fit as a BBC4 Sunday night noir serial, making it good small-screen viewing.
Scribe premiered at the BFI London Film Festival and is released in cinemas in the UK and on demand on 21 July 2017.