4 out of 4 stars
rich man poor man
A central theme in many of Claude Chabrol’s masterpieces is the absence of connection or empathy. Before this film, he made The Good Time Girls (Original title Les Bonnes Femmes) in 1960. Often considered as one of his best, that great film dealt with the inability of men to truly understand women. After this film, Chabrol made Code Name: Tiger (1964). It takes influences from James Bond but also gives glimpses of the lack of connection between classes. In The Third Lover, Chabrol focuses on the rich man poor man division. Spoilers follow for this film.
absence of identity
“I called myself Albin Mercier, but my name is Andre Mercier.” This is the first thing we come to know about our lead protagonist. Andre/Albin is a loner, but not by choice. He is a Frenchman in Germany and is having a difficult time trying to communicate with the locals. The theme of the absence of connection is established right at the beginning. Additionally, it also introduces the film’s central task of probing the erosion of identity and the insecurities emerging from it.
Andre/Albin has gone to Germany for a low paying job. He lives in a dingy apartment and is sad that no one speaks to him. One fine day he comes across a stone wall with a large iron gate. He connects with the strong wall. It knows what he is feeling. He is also fascinated by the secure and happy people who reside on the other side. He is not one of them. In the rest of the movie, he will spend a lot of time near that wall.
“You were being watched”
We come to know that behind these walls live the new hope of Germany, the great writer Albert Hartman. We will be hearing this name a lot in the film. Andre peeps through a window in the wall and sees a happy couple. They are Mr. Hartman and his beautiful wife Helene. In that first glimpse, we see Helene running to Hartman. They embrace each other affectionately in a way as if they had been separated for a long time.
The person that Andre notices especially is Hartman. He has everything. A big beautiful house, money, and a beautiful loving wife. Hartman is the exact opposite of Andre. At once Andre starts thinking of ways to meet them. But he fails to find a possibility.
One fine day, when he was having trouble as usual in expressing himself to a shopkeeper, a lovely woman comes along, She is French and so can translate his words to the German shopkeeper. Andre becomes happy when he comes to know that she is Mrs. Hartman. She acts as a bridge for Andre in more ways than one. As the translator, she will form a connection between Andre and Hartman. She will become the bridge between two contrastive classes.
the language barrier game
While having tea in their home, Andre feels both secure and insecure. He feels happiness because Hartman and Helene have made him feel at home. They made him feel that he belongs somewhere, a place he can call his home (he mistakenly calls it home a few times). But their bliss also makes him irritated. They laugh and talk in a foreign language. It is as if this is the language of the rich which he can’t understand.
Charlie Kaufman had once said that people at any point in time often want things that conflict with each other. The Third Lover is one of the few films to explore this essential human trait. Thus begins the rich man poor man game. While Andre is happy, he is also jealous. He wants to be in that house, but he also wants to destroy that house. Andre feels angry that the couple thinks of him merely as an entertainer. He wants to take revenge on Hartman for making him feel embarrassed before the rich people.
“She can’t speak German but has forgotten her Yugoslavian”
While most writers would have scripted a love story between Andre and Helene, Chabrol creates something much more special. He touches themes that are scarier because they are universal. Andre, like a Yugoslavian woman who is another guest of Hartman, is insecure about his identity. He has difficulty in accepting his own reality. But he also cannot be a part of the world he longs for. Andre is happiest in the days Hartman is not at home. He can act as if the house is his. He dines with Helene like a blissfully happy couple.
In finding the desired crack and using it to destroy the lives of Hartman and Helene, Andre signifies the government that utilizes propaganda to turn people against each other. The government cannot understand the people’s language because it is pre-occupied with its own objectives. Similarly, Andre fails to realize that Hartman is essentially unhappy. His life with Helene is his only means to avoid the evils that reside just on the opposite side of the stone wall. Andre brings these evils before Hartman’s eyes. In doing so, he destroys three lives.