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  • Gareth Crook

Bartleby (1976)

This isn’t an easy one to find. Near impossible in fact, which is a real shame as it’s a great version of the classic Bartleby. I’ve found this French version with English subtitles thanks to The DVD Lady, who deserves a shout out. Have a look at if you’re struggling to find that obscure film you’re hankering to see. So would my efforts be rewarded? How would this compare to the beloved 1972 version? Well it’s very French, I’ll say that for starters, but it’s tone feels remarkably similar to its predecessor, London replaced by 1970s Paris. L’Huissier is played by Michael Lonsdale, who looks like Dan Akroyd mixed with Nick Cave. Right from the outset it’s clear he’s going to carry this. He’s the company boss character, who gets a name in this adaptation. He’s very particular. A neat freak, everything in its place. It’s this that warms him to Bartleby (Maxence Mailfort) I think. He’s a much more endearing character than I’ve seen before, with a frailty to him, worrying about his hair and the bags under the eyes. The bailiff business must be stressful. There’s always an honesty and humbleness to this character though. Hard working if not overly successful, L’Huissier’s office window is in the process of having its view being slowly bricked over throughout the opening scenes, another detail each of the three adaptations shares. Not dissimilar to the 2001 US version, the office is compromised of three slightly warring characters. Already dysfunctional, Bartleby’s entrance almost seems like a stabilising presence. L’Huissier does all the heavy lifting as expected. Bartleby near mute from the get go. This confuses his boss, who’s taken aback by his new employees hardworking yet unfriendly nature. One of the main things I enjoy about the original is it’s starkness. This though does away with that. The characters are much more well rounded, fleshed out and part of the narrative. But it does feel like padding, making the pacing feel a little stunted somehow. It takes the light off Bartleby in the first act. That’s quickly resolved with his first refusal, but it’s the the relationship between the two leads that’s most important, they feel almost inseparable. L’Huissier is suitably perplexed. The co-workers agravated, but Bartleby is shown compassion. It’s too late though, the walls are up, figuratively matched by the complete brick wall now outside the window. L’Huissier seems as lost and lonely as Bartleby here. Spending his Sunday idley wandering the streets. Perhaps he recognises something of himself in Bartleby. We get another interesting twist as the other workers threaten to leave if Bartleby isn’t reprimanded. It’s an unusual power shift, not present in the other films, maybe it’s simply a French thing. The office errand boy is another intriguing character. He has no particular presence, but is ever present, a pair of eyes, much like our own watching on in wonder. All these things add up to what is undoubtably the richest interpretation of Melville’s novella and probably the most accessible, even if French isn’t your first language. The empathy we feel for L’Huissier only increases as Bartleby orchestrates his demise. It that it though? Bartleby by his nature does very little, it’s L’Huissier’s frustration at his perfect world being altered even subtly that brings him to a blithering wreck on his office floor. There’s heart to it. Making it more upsetting, but I prefer the style of the original and that remains my favourite. Perhaps even more so having now, finally seen this. Top marks for The DVD Lady.



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