Hitting the Mark (On Benoît Jacquot’s L’Assassin musicien, 1976)

What I admire is that I have no desire to reread the story on which the film is based: an unfinished novel of Dostoyevsky’s, for which Benoît got the idea from a reading by [Moustapha] Safouan. However, I will go to the tale, which everyone is familiar with: namely, that Dostoyevsky was tormented by a young girl. I pass over the ‘a’ in silence since it was a fantasy for him, and even an erotic one.

Fantasy, usually erotic in fact, founds verisimilitude, belongs to the true. Benoît Jacquot, a person of talent, simply makes it the true. For that’s what talent is: hitting the mark.

Wherever it happens to be. Here it is the cinema.

His first efforts turn out to be the work of a master. To be able to say this, I don’t need to be competent ‘technically’. (I will leave that to others, not in short supply.)

I am capable of knowing that this film touched me. I, an ordinary person, am judge. And there’s no higher court.

It is said that the aim of art is to please: it’s its definition, but this is inadequate when it comes to cinema: it has to be convincing. Which is how it conveys the drama.

For this an economy of means is necessary, the means to carry conviction.

Accept my apologies for doing criticism (I am no critic). It is as a member of the public that I pronounce on these squabbles.

Benoît Jacquot has won.

Which doesn’t just happen.

First, he did the script.

And then he chose other people whose names appear in the film’s credits: he knew how to choose.

Anna Karina was an obvious choice. But there are others: violinist Gunars Larsens and Joël Bion, who plays the hero, owe him something.

Many other actors amongst whom a certain orchestra conductor whom I found unforgettable. My apologies to those I have not named.

I only wish to give an account of Benoît Jacquot’s work as I see it.

He discovered the young girl he needed: I leave it to him to reveal how. But he told me. He found her convincing for him, the best way to operate for what will convince everyone – when one is gifted.

It has to be said that a young girl will “act”, without forcing herself to, what one is made to act for: passion. But in order for it to be successful, one has to be gifted. Gifted for being gifted – this requires a special encounter.

None of this suffices to make a film.

For its ‘composition’ of music and images, I take this film to be a masterpiece.

First, the framing of the shots: extraordinary. Even when they are long. It’s even what is the most extraordinary: they last just as long as is necessary. See for yourself.

I am going to betray something: there would be an actor who was reading his lines, only my wife noticed it. She is quite knowledgeable. I indicate here a matter for research. But it is so convincing that you will forget to do it.

Concerning the music, Haydn and Mozart are both there, alive. But it is the volume of everything as well as its vigour that you will be struck by.

As to the chatter, the style of the work requires that one knows how to handle money, be a proper businessman. This provides an opportunity to see that what the artist is tormented by is becoming a businessman. So much so that it is better that he fail. Which the hero succeeds in doing.

But Benoît Jacquot so effectively covers the traces of what might be suspected of psychoanalytism that you will not realise that the hero ends up twisted as a result. The most convincing of all is when something does not permit any interpretation. The musician, in the end, assassinates only himself: but this will escape you.

How will Benoît Jacquot manage to make his next film come up to this one, I wonder.

Originally published as “Faire mouche”, Le Nouvel Observateur, 29 March 1976, p. 594. Translated from the French by Russell Grigg.

Original text © Estate of Jacques Lacan 1976. English translation © Russell Grigg 2008.

About the Author

Jacques Lacan

About the Author

Jacques Lacan

Jacques Lacan (1901-1981) was a renowned French psychoanalyst, and the founder of an internationally significant school of psychoanalytic theory and practice. His major essays and lectures are gathered in Écrits (complete English translation 2006).View all posts by Jacques Lacan →