Google seems confused about this film’s title. For the sake of convenience I’m gonna go with the one on my ticket: Scribe. Somewhere else there’s someone believes this film goes by a different name, they call it The Eavesdropper. I’m interested in what these two titles mean, how they assign both action and intent. To transcribe is to be proactive but the action itself carries no inherent moral weight. To eavesdrop is the opposite, you’re doing nothing conceptually it’s a dishonest and bad thing to be doing.
Scribe as a film tries to live in that grey area between the two, between action and inaction, nobility and ignominy. We open on Duval having a breakdown in his office as his co-workers are dicks and get him to pull an all nighter while forgetting to give him the documents he needs to get the job done. Dude just wanna chill with a drink. Two years later and the man’s still unemployed, he’s at AA now where they teach that you can never be recovered from your alcoholism, you just gotta exist in that intermediate place where you’re never hurting but you’re always at risk.
It sucks. I mean, to detach from the actual story for a moment it is nice to see how this character be in his stories. François Cluzet plays him like a recent Tom Hanks performance, someone who ain’t all that but just a real competent dude. He goes through some stressful times over the course of this joint and to his credit the writers crafted a script in which, no matter how many times someone taunts him with, ‘why don’t you just go home and have a drink Duval?’ he never do.
There’s another recovering alcoholic in the film too. It’s only woman, Alba Rohrwacher as Sara. The screenplay don’t go so good on her, at least she never falls in love with the dude, he like way too old for her even by industry standards. Her role is to be condescended to by the masculine construct of the film and then get kidnapped towards the end. She survives though. There’s like this scene where she calls Duval in the middle of the night, she’d brought a man home and they fought and he beat her up and trashed her house. Duval’s first question, ‘Had you been drinking?’ Fuck right off you sanctimonious prick, for some reason the film seems to believe this line of questioning is right.
What it is, is victim blaming someone who got assaulted in their own home. I’d say it was okay for him to just be a real shitty guy but the film is so on his side here. At any rate, by this point he has found employment, this mysterious dude called Clement is paying him 1.5k a week to transcribe the tapes of hacked telephones using one of those electric golf ball typewriters.
The film gets very analogue-fetishist about the approach to intrigue that be going on. Alex Lamarque plants his camera all around this bare apartment, all the furniture removed as Duval goes about his day. He has to open the curtains promptly when he arrives at 9am, close them when he leaves at six. He can’t leave the apartment, and mustn’t answer the door to anybody. The camera pushes right into the mechanism of the tape player, the way it clicks closed every time a new tape entered, the letters as the typewriter stamps them onto the page.
At one point Duvall hears something odd on a phone call that ends abruptly, later he sees that the man on the phone was murdered and he’s drawn into this world of intrigue that he’s been lingering on the periphery of. Now in his job interview he states that he’s not a political man, so I assume the film goes where it goes on purpose. See there’s this election that’s happening but the audience don’t get to see a single rally or debate, we only get to see one of the candidates face on a poster. Not even in person.
There’s this related intrigue about a hostage situation taking place in an embassy that could possibly be something to do with this plot, but we only hear about it once, on a radio. We don’t see anything. Which I suppose os sorta the point but the film so obsessed with the detail inside the room that everything that revolves around it is all out of focus. Like there’s a dude who turn up early on and turns out to be important later, before we visit him we get a flashback to that first scene because this character, for as critical as he is only get two scenes in the entire joint.
So when we reach our climax and the whole mystery is unfolding before us, it falls to the ground flaccid and we all just like, ‘Oh.’ because it all sound believable but we ain’t been close enough to any of these fools to have the slightest idea what it would mean in human terms. Like, how shit is the hostage situation? Like, what’s the policies of the candidates whose election this is all supposed to sway?
That second one is important, it feel real odd for there to be a film this bland and uninterested in politics after that election we just had in France there. That Le Pen shit all sorts of fucked up. It like this film thinks it can thrilling enough that there don’t need to be no grounded reality for it to fall back on. It just ends up feeling unmoored, you don’t get a sense of what anything means. The bad guys were bad because they were spying, sure I guess that’s satisfying when you’re dealing with tapes and typewriters, but I know I’m being spied on all the time by my shit ass government.
There no sense of nuance here, I mean I could swear that at some point we probably just lost maybe fifteen minutes out of this film. Somewhere that the interesting stuff is able to hide. A seemingly interesting and handsome film like this couldn’t be so dull. But then I have that problem all the time.
Scribe is currently screening in UK cinemas.
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