Release Date(s)1976 (April 5, 2022)
Studio(s)Andrea Films/Cerito Films (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B-
The Body of My Enemy (aka Le Corps de mon ennemi) was the seventh collaboration between director Henri Verneuil and Jean-Paul Belmondo, and it was a bit of a departure for both of them, especially coming right on the heels of their hit The Night Caller (aka Fear over the City, or Peur sur la ville.) That film had been a prime example of the action-thrillers that had turned Belmondo into an international superstar, with the actor fearlessly throwing himself into some truly impressive stunt work that would make Tom Cruise blanch (there was no CGI to hide safety wires in those days). The Body of My Enemy, on the other hand, is a much more contemplative film, with Belmondo being given the chance to shine in a much less physical fashion. The critical reaction was mixed, and it was less successful at the box office than their previous collaborations, but it’s still a key film in both of their filmographies.
Verneuil and co-screenwriter Michel Audiard based their screenplay on the 1975 novel by right-wing novelist Felicien Marceau, inverting some of his themes to better suit their own anti-industrialist views. Francois Leclercq (Belmondo) is released from prison after serving seven years out of a ten-year sentence for murder. The world has changed during his incarceration, but he hasn’t, so he revisits his old haunts in a quest to discover who may have set him up to take the fall. That leads him back to Gilberte (Marie-France Pisier), the daughter of a wealthy textile manufacturer (Bernard Blier), as well as old associates like Oscar (Claude Brosset), L’ami (Michel Beaune), and Helene (Nicole Garcia)—some of whom have changed in unexpected ways. Yet revenge is never that simple, and Leclercq’s crusade becomes a voyage of self-discovery.
Verneuil and Audiard construct the film like a puzzle box, flashing back and forth between past and present, and even nesting flashbacks within flashbacks. How it all fits together isn’t always clear, especially on a first viewing. (Pro tip: use Belmondo’s changing wardrobe as an anchor.) There are also some ellipses, especially during the finale, that can call into question what appears to be happening on-screen. The Body of My Enemy ends with a quotation from William Blake:
“In the morning, glad I see,
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.”
While the accompanying visuals would seem to support that, it’s an ironic quote, because Leclercq doesn’t really see anything of the sort. Given the fact that he hasn’t necessarily been an entirely reliable narrator, we may even be seeing his wishes, rather than reality (an interpretation that may be supported by the aforementioned ellipses). It doesn’t really matter, because The Body of My Enemy is about purging the past to make way for the future, and one way or the other, Leclercq has finally let go of everything that brought him to this point. He promises to travel to sunnier climes, but he ends up on a train back to Paris instead, because for Leclercq, the weather is now beautiful wherever he may go.
Cinematographer Jean Penzer shot The Body of My Enemy on 35 mm film using Panavision cameras and lenses, framed at 1.66:1 for its theatrical release. There’s no information regarding the master that StudioCanal provided to Kino Lorber for their Blu-ray, which is a bit surprising, because it’s a very good one. It’s likely a scan from the original camera negative, or at the very least, an interpositive in excellent condition. The image is detailed, with little to no signs of damage. The grain is very fine, so if the source wasn’t the original negative, then a bit of digital noise reduction may have been applied. Not in a destructive fashion, however; the textures are still well-resolved. The color balance looks natural, and the contrast is fine, though it’s a bit on the flat side. As a result, if there’s one thing to criticize in the transfer, it’s that the blacks aren’t particularly deep. Yet that’s a minor nitpick in an otherwise impressive presentation.
Audio is offered in French 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with removable English subtitles. Everything sounds clean and clear, though the ADR during interior monologues sounds a bit unnatural, but that’s the way that it was recorded. The iconic score by Francis Lai sounds quite good here. (Listen for a sample from a surprising but appropriate source in the music that he wrote for the strip club.)
Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray release of The Body of My Enemy includes a reversible insert, as well as the following extras:
- Audio Commentary by Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell, and Nathaniel Thompson
- Trailer (SD – 4:29)
- Leon Morin, Priest Trailer (HD – 3:16)
- Cartouche Trailer (SD – 3:32)
- Le Magnifique Trailer (SD – 2:26)
- The Hunter Will Get You Trailer (SD – 2:28)
- Le Professionnel Trailer (SD – 2:12)
- The Outsider Trailer (HD – 2:43)
- The Sicilian Clan Trailer (SD – 2:21)
The Usual Suspects of Berger, Mitchell, and Thompson remain the best team to redeem Belmondo films like this one, which aren’t always as well-regarded as they should be. They discuss the complicated and sometimes off-putting structure of the film, which they liken to a shell game where some things never do connect, and spend some time analyzing the unreliable nature of Leclercq’s narration. They make the keen observation that the story bears more than a passing resemblance to The Talented Mr. Ripley, and also aptly describe the France of the film as a moral wasteland. They do go off on a tangent where they spend a bit too much time complaining that older films like this resonate in ways that new ones don’t (qualitative comparisons like that aren’t particularly useful). That’s still a relatively brief sidebar, though, and they bring things back on point by observing that The Body of My Enemy is a film noir with lights, one that doesn’t go into darkness at the end. That’s as accurate a characterization of the film as you will find.
The Body of My Enemy isn’t exactly a forgotten Belmondo film, but it is an underappreciated one. Thanks to a lovely restoration from StudioCanal, Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray brings new light to a film that was in danger of getting lost in the darkness of history.
- Stephen Bjork