Secondary content in 'The Day of The Jackal' (Zinnemann, 1973)

by CuteHat
  • CuteHat 10-18-2019, 11:15 PM
    The Day of The Jackal is a fantastic film about right-wing plots to assassinate Charles de Gaulle in 1960s France, an often overlooked chapter in its history. The film tells two stories in parallel, one of the foreign hitman, The Jackal, preparing to carry out the contract; the other is of the French security services and Scotland Yard doing detective work to discover who the assassin is before he strikes. It's a very meticulous film, running time is about 2.5 hours, and it tells the story with an almost documentary-like tone.

    What I personally enjoyed the most about the film was some of what I would call its secondary content. The film takes place largely in Paris with scenes around important locations like the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Arc de triomphe, and many governmental buildings, similarly some scenes are shot in London on Downing street and Hyde Park. However the Jackal himself travels to many cities in preparation of the contract killing, seeing a gunsmith in Genova, and traveling through Nice and the French countryside. There are many scenes of travel by rail, later he rents a lovely two-seat Italian car, he stays in many beautiful hotels like the hotel Geribaldi and the hotel Negresco; there are scenes of having coffee and cigarettes in ornate lounges, relaxing in train cars. Dialogue often references the holiday season of late summer: the detectives are understaffed because of the number of men on holiday, government officials are out at the social club; when the Jackal temporarily disguises himself as a Dane, the detectives look t see how many Danes have entered Paris in the last two days and it's well over 600 because the people there are on holiday too. All the references to travel and tourism are so relaxing and engrossing to me, I love seeing the lovely footage of France and the interior decor. It's not really relevant to the plot of this movie about a contract killer assassinating the president of France, but I really soaked in it over the two and a half hour runtime. The film doesn't have any fight scenes or stunts or action, and I think in their absence, these details really showed through. If cinema is basically just entertaining your brain by simulating an experience on a screen, then you know why not throw in lots of nice travel scenes and leisure activities, right?

    As another example, I want to say the nature footage in Kurosawa's Dersu Uzala is similar, but really nature is such an important theme of that film that I would call it primary content. It's also about two and a half hours long I believe, shot in 7mm, and it really is just a treat to watch the Siberian wilderness in bloom that whole time.

    Anyone else had similar experiences, where you watch a film and find yourself enjoying the background content a lot?

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Secondary content in 'The Day of The Jackal' (Zinnemann, 1973)