Movie-going is inherently voyeuristic. Its processes mimic the actions of the Peeping Tom: turn down the lights, keep quiet, watch, repeat.
Unlike unsuspecting victims of the voyeur, however, cinema is a willing participant. It needs to be watched -- it's essential to its survival. French filmmaker extraordinaire Patrice Leconte creates an interesting parallel with his masterful 1989 thriller, Monsieur Hire. Michel Blanc stars as the eponymous lead -- a lonely tailor who lives in an apartment surrounded by neighbors who distrust his solitary life. He pays them no mind, though. Comfortable and resigned to his existence, Hire is a man of routines -- one of which includes the ritualistic nightly watching of a young woman named Alice (Sandrine Bonnaire) living in the building parallel. When Alice catches Hire in the act, she collapses his isolated world by opening up rather than hiding, eventually making physical contact. The watcher and the willing watchee soon form a bond, but its authenticity is suspect as Alice's connection to a murdered woman grows clear. Clocking in at almost 80 minutes, Monsieur Hire is tight and compact. Every beat is precise as the uneasy humor, eroticism and suspense build to a tragic but not too surprising conclusion. This economy is balanced by a sumptuous, polished sheen of muted colors, lights and shadows -- the perfect hiding places for and from watching eyes. (Phil Morehart) Grade: A