A Pure Formality 1994 Movie Scene Gerard Depardieu as Onoff being interrogated by Roman Polanski as Inspector in a police station in pouring rain

A Pure Formality [1994]

Some movies will not only stay with you but also make it exceedingly difficult to find an appropriate movie afterward. After the beautiful complexity and raw emotion of this movie, every other will seem like a tedious affair. Well, at least for a little while. A Pure Formality seems like your classic single-location thriller following a police inspector interrogating a suspect. The story is unfolding in real-time and it’s superbly crafted. So much so, that perhaps a second viewing is warranted right after the first one.

Now I said earlier that A Pure Formality or Una Pura Formalita only seems like a classic thriller and this point is very important. It has all the elements of those movies but it uses them in a different way. Not to bore you too much, just don’t expect anything and you’ll get everything is what I’m saying. The setting of this old police station that’s falling apart sets the mood perfectly. It’s drab and yet sturdy with its ancient walls. And in this greyness, a bright blue blanket appears creating such a contrast that you can’t help but admire it.

It’s the attention to detail like this that keeps your eyes peeled on the screen. Looking for these details and listening to the audio because there will be audio cues also. Nothing is insignificant and by paying careful attention you actually might figure out what’s going on here. The atmosphere is intense from the start and the tension just keeps mounting from scene to scene. And that fucking rain man, it just keeps pouring and pouring, you feel like you’re going to drown while watching this movie.

This is a very confrontational movie, as our two leads will be almost constantly arguing and trying to prove each other’s theories. The script is fucking work of art and I think this is Giuseppe Tornatore’s best movie to date. Just notice how he uses the full width of the frame. You might feel that there’s too much mystery here as time goes on and we still don’t know what the writer was doing on that faithful day. Did he go to the train station or he stayed at home? Who was the mystery woman? Don’t worry, all will be revealed in the glorious third act of this masterpiece.

Onoff is a famous French writer who hasn’t written a novel in quite some time. We find him on this faithful night running through the woods in the pouring rain. He stumbles upon two police officers who seem to be looking for someone and they take him to their police station. Here, Onoff is to wait for the arrival of the police inspector. And after some time he finally arrives and the interrogation begins…

Despite what you might think about his personal life, Gérard Depardieu is a phenomenal actor. And he’s a surprisingly good singer too, it’s him you’ll hear during the closing credits. He gave one hell of a performance here helping a bit stiff Roman Polanski to make it over the line. I strongly believe in the separation of the art and the artist. Something I feel obliged to write every time I’m talking about Polanski and his movies. And I’m sure you’re going to notice young Sergio Rubini playing the role of a kind-hearted police officer, he was also excellent.

If you asked me what the main theme of A Pure Formality is I would have to say life or better yet, a life of an artist. This is a movie that explores the very depths of the human spirit, comprehensively speaking in metaphors. And what’s the most amazing thing about it is that it’s not pretentious or preachy. It’s raw, honest, and intelligent. All of this makes it a bit depressing to tell you the truth. Not nasty depressing like I Stand Alone but this odd type of depressing. To peer into the abyss is not something you do on a regular basis. Although some of us have now started living in it. 

However, I would argue that it’s at the same time uplifting and sobering. It might be that thing you need in your life right now. And if you were looking for a more straightforward thriller, I highly recommend you check out Under Suspicion. Finally, I want to share something personal with you. This was my third time watching this movie. The first time I wasn’t in the mood for it and watched like only half of it. The second time, I watched it whole and it left the same impression on me as it did after my third time. The only problem is that I completely blacked out the final third. 

Director: Giuseppe Tornatore

Writers: Giuseppe Tornatore, Pascal Quignard

Cast: Gerard Depardieu, Roman Polanski, Sergio Rubini, Nicola Di Pinto, Tano Cimarosa

Fun Facts: Although the main actors in this movie are French, speaking to each other in French, the official title of the movie is in Italian. Most likely because the director and writer Giuseppe Tornatore is Italian. Technically speaking, A Pure Formality or Una Pura Formalita is a French Italian coproduction.


IMDb Link: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0110917/

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