But then Simon is assigned to investigate the mental state of his chief executive (an impressive Michael Lonsdale, of Bond villain fame) by means of the initially bizarre ruse of reforming the old man’s string quartet. He slowly discovers dark company secrets that stretch backto the Nazi era and policies regarding ‘the Jewish question’ that not only threaten his own frail psychological well-being but also, more worryingly, his ability to function as a ‘good soldier’ in defence of his company’s corporate dream.
Radical director Nicolas Klotz and his filmmaking partner Elisabeth Perceval realise here a menacing script which is based on François Emmanuel’s novel and which might, in other hands, seem schematic, conspiracy-obsessed or even downright paranoid. They have managed to fashion a dystopian thriller as chilling, atmospheric and relevant as anything French cinema has produced since Godard’s ‘Alphaville’. Unashamedly political and frankly provocative, their film is clearly intended as a poison dart aimed at what they see as the insidious inherent fascism of modern corporate culture.
Perceval and Klotz’s film presents a fascinating collision of two fertile recent sub-genres in French cinema – the cinema of ‘anxiety’ and those films, such as Laurent Cantet’s ‘Human Resources’, which closely examine the realities of the modern workplace. However, ‘Heartbeat Detector’ is more experimental. It moves away from realism towards more expressionist cinematic stylings – notably in its uses of sound, music and non-language based communication – that, at their best, bounce delicious contemporary echoes of Clouzot’s dark misanthropy and Franju’s poetic surrealism.
The price may be a certain obscurity – and an unwelcome magisterial pomposity – but there’s few movies in town as original, challenging or, possibly, upsetting.