Film Notes: Code Name: Tiger (1964)

3.5 out of 4 stars

Nouvelle Vague’s James Bond

This is the first impression you will have while watching Claude Chabrol’s Code Name: Tiger (the original French title is Le Tigre aime la chair fraîche). That it is the Nouvelle Vague’s James Bond. Indeed, it has a charismatic suited hero who romances the ladies and kills the bad guys. But is it more James Bond than Nouvelle Vague, or the other way round? Spoilers follow for the film.

Living in the film

Anyone who has seen French films of the 50s and 60s has some ideas about the French New Wave or the Nouvelle Vague. The first word that comes into the mind of a regular film-buff is that these films were realistic. This is because the movement put filmmaking into the street. But the intention was more than that. Robert Bresson had once said that filmmaking is not reproduction but creation. Andre Bazin, the co-founder of Cahiers du cinema, deeply loved Bresson’s works. To Bazin, a film has its own continued reality. Unlike theater, there is no backstage and the actors remain in their characters even after they have left the room.

The reality of Code Name: Tiger is weirdly simple. The film begins with the assassination of a high profile governmental agent. The murderer goes into a room full of people, does his job in one blow, and escapes. You are struck by the straightforwardness. But you can feel that it is more real than most car chase scenes you have come across. The streets where the assassin is chased by the police are real. They run on foot. When they jump they stumble. Shots appear one take OK. The immediacy of the scene strikes you hard.

“Just because you’re called Tiger doesn’t mean you can eat everything”

In the next scene, it is told that the Turks are arriving to sign a deal of 40 Mirage IVs from France. Our hero, ‘the Tiger’, believes that in France political attacks do not happen anymore. This is a world where violence occurs abruptly and almost without anticipation. But still, he is assigned to protect the arriving Turkish delegation and we know that there will be an attack soon enough.

The Nouvelle Vague’s James Bond has some intimate ways to evoke tension. The Tiger runs his hand on the flat railing bar as he rushes to greet the Turks. It innovatively evokes an excitement. His men are hiding all around (some are even forming huddles like players before a match). One of his men suggests using a gun that shoots backward. The enemy too is prepared. It appears that they are better prepared.

Junk the Car

Right after this scene, we are taken to a car junkyard. This scene sums up the entire film. Traditions are going to be played with and new meanings are to be derived from old definitions. The hero saves the Turks from the assassins. But it is his hands that do the trick. He beats up the villains with an effort that feels real. He eyes women, but in doing so stumbles and hits the door. The Tiger, the daredevil action hero, spends a considerable time of the film holding gifts and assisting the Turks in their shopping.

The Turkish women have affairs with our hero. But throughout the film, we can feel their sense of aristocracy. In the end, the heroine, a woman of wealth, gets in her sophisticated car after the adventure is over. The Tiger takes the dusty road and goes away walking in the opposite direction. There is no happy ending where the hero gets the girl in an exotic location. It is just a dirty junkyard and a lonely man. The truth is often dirty.

The new birdcage

I have just one problem with this film. The Nouvelle Vague’s James Bond treats its women in the same way as James Bond (of that era) tended to treat. The film is not willing to dig deeper and bring out the different shades of its female characters. They are delicate and beautiful. But wealth has spoiled them. Thus they are also lazy and rather irritating. Like the birdcage that arrives in a scene, the film limits its women to a few cliched aspects. The great filmmaker Claude Chabrol wrote some marvelous psychological power-plays involving women characters. So more could have been expected of him in this regard.

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