In Marseilles, a woman commits suicide after she is raped in an alley. Nightly, her brother Gerard broods at the scene hoping to catch the rapist. He lives with his lover Bella whom he neglects, an alcoholic brother who lurks about, and his father who’s stayed drunk since the daughter’s death, ignoring work and his own companion.
At a seedy bar, Gerard meets a wealthy, nihilistic hedonist and his beautiful sister. Gerard flips for her and thinks she’s his ticket out of the slum. Bella warns him otherwise and also, in jealousy, sets two thugs on him. Then Gerard thinks he’s found his sister’s rapist. These emotional crises force Gerard to choose what’s most important.
The Moon in the Gutter (French: La Lune dans le caniveau) is a 1983 French drama film directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix and starring Gérard Depardieu, Nastassja Kinski, Victoria Abril, Bertice Reading, Gabriel Monnet, Dominique Pinon and Milena Vukotic. It was entered into the 1983 Cannes Film Festival.
Although it immediately followed Beineix’s big, commercial success Diva and featured two very big stars, Gérard Depardieu and Nastassja Kinski, The Moon in the Gutter was not well received by critics or audiences and failed at the box office with only 625,000 admissions in France. Its vivid visual style was noted by critics. It preceded a much better-appreciated cult success from the same director, known in the US and UK as Betty Blue.
The film was based on a pulp-noir novel of the same name, written by David Goodis, but it was transferred in the film script from the docksides of Philadelphia to Marseille. La Lune dans le caniveau, according to AllMovie,” received uneven reviews on its initial release”. It won a French Cesar Award for its production design.
Review for The Moon in the Gutter
“The Moon in the Gutter” is a sumptuous, dazzlingly photographed melodrama that becomes, alas, relentlessly boring. It is all style and no heart, and the giveaway is that we never really care about the characters even though each one has a suitably tragic story. This is the second feature by a young French director named Jean-Jacques Beineix, whose first film, the 1981 hit “Diva,” also was criticized in some quarters for being just a technical exercise. But the two films are worlds apart and the difference is in the way he sees his characters.
In “Diva,” the stylistic pyrotechnics were held together by a series of intriguing characters (the Zen-master with the cigar, the diva, the mysterious Vietnamese girl), and by a central character — a goofy delivery boy obsessed with music — we felt a real affection for.
In “The Moon in the Gutter,” the characters are essentially just part of the visual compositions, and not even such charismatic actors as Gerard Depardieu and Nastassia Kinski can break out of the Beineix’s mannered photography. The story in the movie is lifted from a novel by David Goodis, the pulp writer who also supplied the story for Truffaut’s “Shoot the Piano Player.” It’s a romantic crime melodrama, so much in love with its sleazy waterfront dives that you’d think the characters prefer to live in squalor. Depardieu stars as a man who returns time and again to the scene of his sister’s rape and murder, ostensibly seeking her killer, although what he most often finds is a hangover.
People drop into the plot. One of them is a rich alcoholic who chooses to drink down at the docks because people will leave him alone. Another is the local tart (Victoria Abril), who loves Depardieu but cannot penetrate his enthusiastic gloom. Then one night a dream turns up: Nastassia Kinski, as the sister of the rich drunk. She entrances Depardieu, who begins to forget his sister, just as it begins to appear that Kinski may know something about her fate. Well, maybe she does, and maybe she doesn’t. “The Moon in the Gutter” is so much in love with its overwrought style that Beineix doesn’t find it necessary to resolve its plot. I guess he doesn’t think it matters, since, in the movie’s lurid world, death is just another pastime, another reminder that those sad songs on the jukebox are about the people who pump in the francs.
I emphasize that the movie is beautifully photographed because the visuals are really the only strength. Beineix, who created such a quick-moving, kinetic universe in “Diva,” seems to have made a deliberate choice this time: He wants to evoke the great 1940s Hollywood film noir look, in moody, murky colors. There are setups here that look inspired by stylish classics like Jules Dassin’s “Night and the City,” or Carol Reed’s “The Third Man”: There’s sleaze, but it looks great. The tip-off is in one of the opening shots, in which we do indeed see a moon reflected in the gutter, but so elegantly the moon looks like it belongs there.
I saw the film at this year’s Cannes Film Festival where it really tried the patience of the audience. For its American release, the distributors have trimmed 11 minutes. Since the whole film is of a stylistic piece, that can only mean 11 minutes less of what was wrong in the first place.
The Moon in the Gutter (1983)
Directed by: Jean-Jacques Beineix
Starring: Gérard Depardieu, Nastassja Kinski, Victoria Abril, Bertice Reading, Gabriel Monnet, Dominique Pinon, Milena Vukotic
Screenplay by: Jean-Jacques Beineix, Olivier Mergault
Production Design by: Hilton McConnico
Cinematography by: Philippe Rousselot
Film Editing by: Yves Deschamps, Monique Prim
Costume Design by: Claire Fraisse
Music by: Gabriel Yared
Distributed by: Triumph Films
Release Date: May 18, 1983