The Drummer Crab

Lawrence Russell

The Drummer Crab (Le Crab Tambour 1977) dir. Pierre Scheoudorffer cine. Raoul Coutard

This is another one of these multiple flashback movies although this time the narrative owes its inspiration to Joseph Conrad. The "Marlowe" of this story is a naval doctor who, during a resupply mission by a French warship to the fishing trawlers on the Grand Banks, hears various stories about a former associate and survivor of the French involvement in Indo-China, a Lt. Wilsdorf, aka "the Drummer Crab".

In many ways this is a tedious piece, full of bogus romanticism as only the French know it, altho' it is saved by the occasional good scene and the cinematography of R. Coutard (who also shot Breathless).

Wilsdorfis a sentimental outsider, a man who walks everywhere with a black cat on his shoulder ("My conscience -- all black and not very pretty to see.") We see him through the various narrations (mostly drunken) of different officers, detailing the Crab's eclectic career up until the present (the middle seventies).

There's probably a symbolic intent here, with the Captain of the warship dying of cancer but stoically hanging on from a brief rendez vous with the Crab on the high seas off Newfoundland... and the Crab, seen only via his words over the radio ("Farewell") heads off in his trawler into the ice flows of Greenland. He is, of course, alienated from Europe and the Captain, "all for the glory of France."

Well, this is a good example of novelle vague ideology -- the dialectic of documentary and fiction -- with, alas, boring results.

© LR 8/2/88


Film Court | copyright 1999 | Lawrence Russell