French Twists

Marina (Romy Schneider) and Claude (Gabriele Tinti) have a violent argument after leaving an inn in the French countryside. A pistol is fired, Claude roughs up his girlfriend and the couple speed off in a convertible. The car leaves the main road and races along the cliffs of the Brittany coastline until it plunges over a ledge into the sea below with Claude at the wheel. Among the hillside rocks, we see Marina, who miraculously escaped from the car and is the only witness at the scene. All of this unfolds under the opening credits of Qui? (1970), a rarely seen French film which offers some odd twists and turns in its brisk 73-minute running time (In some regions it was released under the title The Sensuous Assassin, which is completely misleading in regards to the actual storyline).

Any movie that features such a tense, action-packed sequence as its opening salvo would be hard pressed to maintain that kind of excitement for the duration and Qui? is no exception. It quickly downshifts into a portrait of an ambiguous relationship between Marina, who wants to forget the horrible incident, and Serge (Maurice Ronet), the brother of Claude, who is intent on discovering exactly what happened and whether Marina was responsible.

You could say that Qui? is two movies in one. The first part unfolds like a mystery thriller as the police and Serge search in vain for Claude’s missing corpse. The second part takes a different tact and becomes an exercise in paranoia as Marina feels someone is watching and following her. At the same time, Serge suspects Marina of hiding the truth, even after they become lovers. Everything is eventually revealed in a surprise confrontation that ends in accidental murder and an ironic twist at the fade-out.

Italian film poster for Qui? (1970), directed by Leonard Keigel.

Director Leonard Keigel is a complete unknown in the U.S. and only made four feature films. Dark Journey aka Leviathan (1962) marked his film debut and was well received by critics for its brooding depiction of a lust-driven ladies’ man, played by Louis Jourdan. Keigel followed that with a respectable adaptation of The Queen of Spades (1965), based on the Alexander Pushkin short story. His third film, Qui?, turned out to be a critical and commercial failure and derailed his career, although he managed to make one final feature, Une femme, un jour…(1977).

Maurice Ronet (left), director Leonard Keigel and Romy Schneider on the set of Qui? (1970).

There are certainly some problems with Qui? such as major lapses in credibility – how did Marina escape unharmed from a speeding convertible? – and an unnecessary subplot involving Serge’s ex-wife Dorothy (Simone Bach), which leads nowhere and reduces the film’s suspenseful momentum. The pop-rock music score by Claude Bolling is also overbearing and annoying with two compositions, “Who Are You,” and “Strange Magic,” getting the spotlight treatment so you can cringe at the pretentious lyrics as sung by Jack Fishman in English.

German lobbycard for the 1970 French film, Qui?

On the plus side, you have Romy Schneider and Maurice Ronet in the lead roles, some striking locations on the coast of Brittany and in Paris and a sting at the end that seems inspired by the climax of Rene Clement’s Plein Soleil (Purple Noon, 1960). Ronet, in fact, has to do much of the heavy lifting here in terms of the acting and he creates a compelling character who is torn between a genuine detestation for his missing brother and his familial duty to prove Marina’s guilt or innocence in the accident. In one scene, he even goes scuba diving in the cove where the convertible sank to find the missing pistol he thinks may be proof of Marina’s guilt.

German lobbycard for Qui? (1970), directed by Leonard Keigel.

Schneider is a much more enigmatic presence as Marina and is often hard to read. She clearly shows no remorse over Claude’s disappearance and seems more interested in initiating an affair with Serge. Even when she is being terrorized by some real or imagined stalker, Schneider remains curiously unsympathetic yet there is no denying her extraordinary beauty, elegance and sensuality. She and Ronet had just appeared together in the chic, hedonistic drama, La Piscine (The Swimming Pool, 1969), directed by Jacques Deray and co-starring Alain Delon and Jane Birkin. Admittedly, the Deray film is superior to Qui? but it also doesn’t have oddball scenes like Ronet (as Serge) getting drunk and throwing eggs at unsuspecting pedestrians in the street below.

Gabriele Tinti co-stars with Romy Schneider in Qui?, a 1970 French mystery thriller (from the German lobbycard).

As for Gabriele Tinti, who plays the wicked, predatory Claude, he was promoted as an Italian heartthrob in films of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, particularly peplum (Esther and the King, Alone Against Rome) and crime dramas (La Banda Casaroli, Seven Golden Men). There was a brief attempt to break into American films as noted by his appearances in two Robert Aldrich films, The Flight of the Phoenix (1965) and The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968). He also appeared in Aldrich’s European biblical epic, Sodom and Gomorrah (1962) but, for the most part, Tinti was rarely the top billed star in a movie. He was almost always a supporting player and, during the mid-seventies, he began to specialize in softcore exploitation films like Black Cobra Woman (1976) as well as a series of Emanuelle imitations opposite Laura Gemser, whom Tinti met during the making of Black Emanuelle (1975) and ended up marrying in 1976. The couple remained together until Tinti’s death in 1991 at the relatively young age of 59. Tinti had previously been married to Brazilian sex symbol Norma Bengell (Mafioso, Planet of the Vampires).

Qui? has never been released on any format in the U.S. though you might be able to find a DVD of it from StudioCanal from sellers in France (no English language or subtitle options) if you own an all-region player that can play the PAL format. You can also purchase a nice looking, English subtitled DVD-R of it from European Trash Cinema.

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