La Machine (1994)


France. 1994.


Director/Screenplay – Francois Dupeyron, Based on the Novel by Rene Belletto, Photography – Dietrich Lohmann, Music – Michel Portal, Special Effects – Georges Demetreau, Production Design – Rene Cleitman. Production Company – Hachette Premiere/Le Studio Canal +/France 2 Cinema/M6 Films


Gerard Depardieu (Dr Marc Lacroix), Didier Bourdon (Michel Zyto), Nathalie Baye (Marie Lacroix), Natalia Woerner (Marianne Matys), Erwan Baynaud (Leonard Lacroix)


Marc Lacroix, a brilliant neurologist and an expert in abnormal psychology, has built a machine that allows two people to exchange minds with one another. He becomes fascinated with patient Michel Zyto, a psychopath who has killed several women. He secretly takes Zyto to his home, places him in the machine and swaps minds with him. However, as soon as he is in control of Lacroix’s body, Zyto refuses to push the button that will transfer their minds back. Instead, Zyto has Lacroix in his body locked up back at the institute. In Lacroix’s body, Zyto then takes over Lacroix’s life, all the time fighting his desire to kill Lacroix’s wife. Meanwhile, Lacroix makes an escape from the asylum and comes after Zyto, determined to get his body back.

This French thriller is a variant on the bodyswap theme used in a number of fantasy films – see the likes of Freaky Friday (1976), All Of Me (1984), Like Father, Like Son (1987) and Vice Versa (1988). However, it uses the theme to horror ends – something that had only been done before in The Mephisto Waltz (1971), although we had seen treatments in films of the mad scientist era such as The Man Who Changed His Mind (1936) and Black Friday (1940) – and gives it a thin science-fictional rationale of the titular ‘machine’.

Unfortunately, the very familiarity of the theme tends to work against the film – much of the business of the killer slotting into Gerard Depardieu’s life seems overly familiar. Annoying too is the obviousness of many of the plot set-ups – Depardieu for entirely contrived reasons never tells anybody about the fact that he is taking psycho-killer Didier Bourdon alone to his house for experiments, while quite unbelievably the process can only be reversed by a switch that nobody except the killer can flip.

Nevertheless, once the film gets past its set-up, La Machine becomes an engrossing thriller. Director Francois Dupreyon keeps the plot moving along nicely. One scene that stands out is where Gerard Depardieu’s mistress Natalia Woerner tries to tell wife Nathalie Baye that Depardieu is not Depardieu in a supermarket, which gets sidetracked off into Baye’s anger about Woerner being Depardieu’s mistress, only to have Depardieu return, the wife tell him just what Woerner told her and he fixate on Woerner with a murderous gleam. Some of the juxtapositions the film makes are interesting – Zyto hates sex but opens up to Marie, which serves to become a reconciliation in her dead relationship with Lacroix; how Marianne finally gets Lacroix to herself – but only when he is no longer in his own body. Hollywood reportedly purchased the rights to the story for an English-language remake, which may be interesting or equally may just amplify the cliches and contrived improbabilities. The film does have a nice eerie score.

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