Wednesday 17 March 2021

Alliance Francaise French Film Festival 2021 (5) - Barrie Pattison reviews BOÎTE NOIRE/BLACK BOX (Yann Gozlan, 2020)

Yann Gozlan

There’s seventy years between the French Film Festival’s new Boîte noire/Black Box  and No Highway in the Sky  but they both field the same plot - nerdy guy takes on the aerospace industry. The old film coasted on star appeal -James Stewart, Marlene Dietrich, Glynis Johns, Jack Hawkins - and Nevil Shute’s aviation knowhow. Boîte noire    has decades more of movies and popular culture to draw on and it shows.

The newly certified air liner on the Paris-Dubai route crashes and audiologist Pierre Niney (Roman Gary in La promesse de l’aube) is recruited into the investigation team despite his recent over zealousness on a helicopter pile-up. When senior investigator Olivier Rabourdin goes missing, Niney has to brief the morning press conference, impressing everyone including boss André Dussolier and fellow aviation worker/squeeze Lou de Laâge (Japeloup).

Pierre Niney, Black Box

Pilots object that they are always blamed for equipment failure. Early analysis of the black box recording suggests a jihadist attack but Niney keeps probing. A striking scene has him sitting in one of the recovered seats which are laid out in the hanger floor reconstruction of the crashed plane and thinking himself onto the flight, referencing recovered selfies and the black box recording. 


However paranoia thrillers like Dan Mainwaring’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Phoenix City Story scripts or Jacques Deray’s Un papillon sur l'épaule  are feeding into this one and our hero is having noise attacks as well as pondering his own

motivation as a failed pilot. Three hundred people died in the crash. On the other handhis friends and associates will be destroyed if he implies irregularities.


Cut to downwards drone shots of his driving when Niney interviews an intimate of a dead passenger who received a last minute cell ‘phone call from them as the plane went down or Niney hesitating to break into Rabourdin’s empty home, all in his BEA jacket. Sophisticated film making that montages a flight simulator experience, cuts to darkness and a sudden close up of Niney’s ear suggests the pressure he is succumbing to, all going with the Bernard Herrmann reminiscent score that they put under constant A/V screen displays. 


Attention goes to flourishes like the camera making its way through the doomed plane to find the black box stowed away below deck or it turning on its side to show Niney peering into the dark lake water that his SatNav has led him to. 


Performances and film craft are excellent but the film is too long at two hours plus and works better in the first half which pivots on everyone’s suspicions, including his own, that Niney may be subject to paranoid fantasies, than in the second half which becomes more conventional, like a Guillaume Nicloux  thriller.


Lou de Laâge, Black Box

However de Laâge’s vengeance, before crossing the tarmac at dawn, makes a strong ending. Jimmy Stewart never got anything that impressive out of Nevil Shute.

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