A tramp, exiled in Paris and haunted by a criminal past, sees no way out of his predicament until, almost miraculously, he is offered 200 francs by a wealthy stranger whose only request is that, when he can afford it, he return the money to a chapel dedicated to St. Thérèse. A man of honour but weak will, the derelict takes the chance to rejoin a world to which he had become a stranger, finding work, keeping company with women, dining out and sleeping in beds; such luxuries, however, distract him from his obligation... Olmi's adaptation of Joseph Roth's novella is faithful and charming, filmed with a simplicity that mirrors the original's economy. As the alcoholic, though a tad too clean, Rutger Hauer effortlessly suggests the character's blend of pride, dignity and vunerability, while Olmi eschews prosaic realism in his evocation of Paris, seen as an oddly timeless, universal city; the lyricism matches the almost magical coincidences of the plot. Indeed the film has the resonance and innocence of a parable, its religious elements widely subordinated to a story that is told with a minimum of fuss and explanatory dialogue. Quite why the film is so affecting is hard to hard to pin down: maybe it's because Olmi is so sure of his gentle, generous touch that he feels no need for overstatement.
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