It really has been a long time since I last watched a French film. I think I was beginning to have a crisis of faith after a bunch of them left me cold. But with so many French films left to watch I thought I figured that it would be best to jump feet first into one of the most acclaimed French films I had yet to watch.
Going into The Wages of Fear I had no idea what to expect. Arguably you could be about half an hour into this film and still not guess how the majority of this film was going to go. That is the strange genius of the opening act – it sets the scene perfectly and, unless you read up on it, you have no idea what’s to come.
At the beginning we find ourselves in an unidentified South American town populated by locals and a substantial community of expats (including Americans, Brits, Germans and the French). Pretty much all the foreigners are trapped in this town (which I assumed was meant to be in Venezuela or Colombia) because it is way too expensive to leave.
It is this feeling of entrapment that explains why any of them would volunteer to take on the job of driving a truck containing material so volatile that a slight knock can make it explode. These are men who are so so desperate that no matter how this job goes this provides them with a way out of this dead end town.
The tension that is maintained through over an hour of driving through poorly maintained roads, pools of slick oil and other obstacles is impressive. Like, incredibly impressive. At any point in watching this sequence you are legitimately unsure of whether the next bump they hit will be their deaths.
This is why the first 30-45 minutes of the film is so important – you need to get to know, care and understand the plight of these drivers. Why are they so willing to trade their lives at a shot at $2000 and why should we care whether they live or die; two questions that need to be answered to make this a great movie, and they are answered brilliantly.
To say that The Wages of Fear has completely restored my faith in French-language cinema is an understatement. This film is an absolute triumph and I am really looking forward to watching this director’s other entry on the list: Les Diaboliques. That probably won’t be for a while though, but I might be tempted to stick around in France for a while.