The Story Of A Cheat (1936)

Untitled-1Halfway during The Story Of A Cheat, I began to wonder if Sacha Guitry was glorifying thievery and cheating. He builds a fortune from it, and enjoys luxury living in places like Monaco. He tells us how he cheats, and how he tricks person after person to gain the upper hand in cards and roulette. He joins forces with fellow cheaters, then brags about the money they earn together. But as the movie was drawing to a close, I realised that by grounding the story in karma, Guitry isn’t glorifying cheating; he’s mocking it.

There is a magical levity to the story he tells. It is woven with black comedy and sneaky glances at the camera. Yes, cheating is how he gets by, but he learns at the end that there is more to life. It’s also cleverly edited to bring us a man who does nothing right, yet finds redemption. He goes about his life with no sound, with no dialogue. All he has to go on is the narration from his future self, seated at a cafe across from the house he used to live in, writing the movie as his memoirs. It’s a very smart decision, because we aren’t allowed the freedom to move around the story. We are stuck to his point of view, and we are encouraged to adopt his way of thinking. Do we always agree? No. But heck, we can’t do anything about it.

Nor do we really want to. We are not fed any moral lessons by Guitry. He has made this movie with the intention of letting us view it. From the opening titles alone, we are informed of his boldness to divert from the norm and embrace innovation. He uses the camera as a window, and introduces his cast and crew as if he’s holding our hands and walking through the space of his movie. Everything has already happened, and now he is merely showcasing it to us. It is a recollection of thoughts and memories; Guitry is remembering his youth and putting it down on paper, which in turn is being adapted onto the screen. The result is a very witty and fresh take on the banal tale of a boy turned man.

Does the movie teach us anything? I suppose it does. It teaches us that cheating and stealing are bad, and that being honest is more fulfilling, but less rewarding. Still, it is the right thing to do. And if it all fails, at least we have the option of becoming a security agent.

Best Moment | Much of the dialogue is clever and funny, and when it’s combined with Guitry’s pitch perfect comedic delivery, it becomes gold.

Worst Moment | Nope.

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