Scribe (French: The Eavesdropper) is a classic conspiracy thriller in ambition if not in atmosphere.
François Cluzet plays Duval, a conscientious, middle-aged office worker who suffers a drink-exacerbated breakdown.
Out of work for two years and abandoned by his wife, he seeks not only an income but a framework to his life. As such, when the officious Clement (Denis Podalydès) offers him a job, and one with a considerable salary, he accepts with few reservations; even if it does seem shady.
From nine to six, sat alone in an empty apartment, he transcribes audio cassettes using a manual typewriter. Their source is unknown to him; their content political. He transcribes mechanically, on autopilot; destroying any mis-typed documents in a shredder.
Duval spends his evenings at AA meetings or else sat at his kitchen table working on jigsaws. His only real acquaintance is Sara (Alba Rohrwacher), whom he simply wants to aid in her recovery.
Then one day Duval overhears something he cannot ignore.
Thomas Kruithof’s clearly takes inspiration from the likes of Blow Out and The Conversation, but never quite recaptures the paranoia those films evoked. Gregoire Auger’s score comes close with its high thin violins and whirligig strings evoke a sense of low-level disorientation that doesn’t quite meld with the suitably ‘70s mundanity of the city. The orange curtain that runs the full-length of the apartment wall, and which Duval draws back each more as a matter of a routine, is a nice touch.
Still, Duval is clearly caught up in something – he spends the latter half of the film being forced into people’s cars, usually with a bag over his head, sometimes at gunpoint. There’s also the menacingly humourful Gerfaut (Simon Abkarian) who arrives at the apartment with an ingratiating smile and his own agenda. As such, unlike with the films that inspired Scribe, we’re never given to doubt that there is a conspiracy.
Duval’s reliability, unlike his predecessors is never in doubt; in fact, it’s his defining personality trait. Often described as France’s Dustin Hoffman, Cluzet brings a reproachful dignity to the role. Quiet, and discreet, but possessing a conscience, he shows no signs of paranoia or instability after the first act. Only a moment involving a peephole and a stranger in the corridor possesses the requisite nightmarish quality.
The rest of Scribe‘s ninety minutes is a serviceable enough thriller, but like Duval, a bit too by-the-book to leave much of an impression.
Scribe is now available on VOD and in select UK cinemas from July 21st