Release Date(s)1979 (December 5, 2023)
Studio(s)V Films/Société Française de Production (Kino Lorber)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B
A genuinely odd but fascinating political thriller, I... for Icarus (I... comme Icare, 1979) is essentially a condemnation of the Warren Commission’s findings following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which all-too-neatly concluded Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, this despite serious flaws in the investigation and evidence pointing to a cover-up far more sinister and complex.
The movie is at once impressively direct in its accusations while simultaneously indirect in one respect that somewhat undermines its own case. Through an entirely original story it meticulously recreates myriad details about the Kennedy assassination, Oswald, flaws in the Warren Report, etc. Yet it’s a French film, in French (for the most part), and is not set in the United States, nor is it set in France. Rather, it takes place in an unnamed, fabricated nation with elements drawn from both countries, its characters inhabiting a world of modern steel and glass architecture that strenuously avoids anything recognizably French or American.
Conversely, I... for Icarus stars that most French of French stars, Yves Montand, here wearing a gray wig and glasses that make him look less like Montand and more like Eric Bogosian. He is Henri Volney, Attorney General for wherever it is we are, the lone dissenting vote on final approval of Warren Commission-type findings following the assassination of President Marc Jarry. All the others agree in the single-assassin conclusion yet, during the assassination, shown at the beginning of the film, the movie audience sees the assassin, on the roof of a tall building, surprised to find he’s been provided a rifle with no bullets, and thus fires not a single shot before he is murdered immediately after the President is shot by somebody else in another part of the same high-rise.
Volney assembles a team to investigate and, like Jim Garrison in Oliver Stone’s JFK, he works obsessively, single-minded in his resolve to get at the truth. The original screenplay, by the film’s director, Henri Verneuil, and Didier Decoin (son of director Henri Decoin), is frequently talky and static for long stretches, though compelling in other scenes. It resembles a Rod Serling-written Twilight Zone episode in the way characters, particularly Volney, make long-winded, polemic speeches to one another, and the film teeters on science fiction with its made-up nation that, at times, has a slightly futuristic look. (We glimpse a real Space Age-looking ambulance that might have been made specifically for the film; or were such vehicles in use in 1979?) In some scenes, Volney is a veritable Hercule Poirot, easily finding major clues and inconsistencies others have missed. This strains credibility at times; near the end we’re asked to accept that not only is Volney responsible for every major breakthrough, but he’s also an expert audio engineer able to decode sinister messages hidden in cassette tapes with relative ease.
Yet, some of revelations Volney turns up are dramatically riveting. In one scene he has a sniper recreate what the accused assassin’s shots. In crime scene photos the spent shells landed a neat little grouping just below where he stood, yet in the recreation the shells go flying in all directions.
Much of the film takes place in Volney’s office, an elaborate set that, like Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope and other films, uses a detailed miniature for the cityscape outside his big glass windows. I confess to being a little distracted by its elaborateness: highways with speeding cars, an external elevator for a building across the street, etc. Like the one in Rope it’s carefully lit and convincingly changes with the various times of day and night.
The screenplay is frequently clever and inventive, admirable in its direct/indirect condemnation of political cover-up and public manipulation, and part—if at the tail-end—of a long string of ‘70s political conspiracy thrillers (The Conversation, The Parallax View, Winter Kills, etc.) but it’s also very predictable in other ways. I was able to figure out the meaning of the film’s title and the mysterious audio recording, and precisely how the movie would end a good 30 minutes before did. And, yes, the elaborate miniature set plays a role in that.
French statesman and national hero Charles de Gaulle famously declared the findings of the Warren Commission a big fat lie and that Kennedy was assassinated by powerful political extremists working in tandem with the FBI and/or CIA. Whether the rest of France believed as de Gaulle did I cannot say, but despite its dramatic clumsiness here and there, I... for Icarus compares favorably to the best Kennedy-related thrillers, notably William Richert’s Winter Kills and Oliver Stone’s JFK.
Despite the long-winded dialogue, Yves Montand is excellent as Volney, the only big name in the large cast. Ennio Morricone’s musical score is less famous than some of his other work of the period, but it’s likewise excellent. The film did reasonably well at the box office in France and was nominated for five César Awards, including Best Picture, but remains virtually unknown outside of Europe, making this release most welcome.
Kino’s Blu-ray, licensed from Gaumont, presents the film in its original 1.66:1 widescreen format, in French with optional English subtitles. The transfer is excellent, clean with exceptionally vibrant color. The DTS-HD Master Audio (2.0 mono) is also very good for what it is, and the disc is Region “A” encoded.
Supplements consist of a French trailer with no English subtitling, and a new audio commentary track by film historians Samm Deighan and Rob Skvarla. Well-researched, it’s one of the better commentary tracks from Kino.
I... for Icarus doesn’t always work and some of it is predictable and dramatically clumsy, but it’s certainly wildly original and daring, and most of that daring originality works. Highly Recommended.
- Stuart Galbraith IV