Resnais' film about political destiny in France in the '30s is always thoroughly chilling, never merely elegant. The chill stems not simply from the cold precision of the images, but from the unshakeable implications of what he allows us to witness. On the one hand, and occupying centre stage, is Stavisky (Belmondo), swindler and entrepreneur; on the other, in the wings, is Trotsky, arriving in France, working, and finally exiled. Around them, sotto voce political machinations in which gradually and unmistakeably a grand design becomes visible - the breaking of the Left and the drift to Fascism. Stavisky's fall reveals him to be a pawn in a swindle of vaster dimensions than even he dreamed of, the fall itself a screen behind which other forces operate. Resnais conveys the atmosphere of moral degeneracy with a tact which makes it all the more insidious, through a film that is superbly paced.
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