The snow was dirty or the hard job of a man
The snow was dirty (1) is not a crime novel by Georges Simenon where the commissioner Maigret must find the author of a murder. It is, apparently, the black story of a young man who seeks his place in a world, complex, that he hardly understands, that he discovers little by little and who will condemn him for acts of which he knows nothing. . But it’s a lot more.
The novel, written in 1948, recalls the situation of many European countries during the Second World War: a country occupied by a foreign army. But there is nothing to say which country. The story takes place in an innominate country, an allegorical image of many others. If the main character who is not from a particular country, he is well of his time.
He will act steadfastly to accomplish the destiny he has chosen to be himself.
At what price !
In this crime novel, the narrator is closer to the hero, both observant and observed. He shows the world as he sees it, feels it, guesses it, imagines it.
Simenon describes the society in which Frank lives: the inhabitants of the building where his mother runs a brothel and provides him with a financial well-being and some facilities…; the dodgy bistro where he meets his eldest friend of a few years and where he wants to conquer his place. In a city where cohabitate, mix or fight dangerous networks more or less powerful: resistant, traffickers, police … An outside world, dominated by appearances where everyone suspects everyone. But behind this world of appearances, there is another, discreet, occult, anonymous, violent.
The young Frank, fatherless, without real education, unscrupulous, determined, manages to make himself a place in this society governed by distrust, by fear, by a discreet police who belongs to another world. His desired amorality, without superego, contempt of men and even more of women, his refusal of any apparent sentimentality, love or pity, neither for himself, nor for others, allows him to become unique, in his own eyes, superior to everyone he meets. But alone.
The assassination of an occupation officer near his house gives him the assurance of being at or above the level of the others. Assassination free, without reason, without any feeling of guilt, without even having to talk about it, to take glory. Successful technical operation. His next-door neighbor, the father of a young girl, understood that he is author of this assassination. He will not speak. This establishes a strange link between them. Reciprocal adoption. Quiet.
The revolver, stolen from the officer, provided him with new, obvious proof of his superiority. He can go further. To obtain money with the help of two accomplices, at the cost of the murder of an ex-nurse who recognized him. A murder committed by necessity, coldly, but which, this time, does not leave him indifferent, shakes him for a moment.
Having a lot of money, he can display his wealth and even his interpersonal skills, thanks to a card obtained from the occupant at the same time. This card ensures him a certain impunity, a discreet, perhaps dangerous consideration, and makes things easier for him. He has moved up in the hierarchy of the environments he frequents.
But he needs to go further to show himself that he is not just above all the others, those under-nothings he despises. He must affirm by a new crime, more serious and intimately, that he is above all morals and feelings. Including his own feelings, which he refuses. But that shake him up.
This time, his act accomplished, he is helpless but as he wanted: unique. Faced with his destiny… Without having seen what he thought he was seeing.
This fate has a surprise in store for him. Absurd. He is arrested, not as he more or less thought, perhaps hoping, for one of the crimes he committed but for reasons that initially escaped him: the possession of money stolen from the occupant’s offices, his relations with people belonging to a network that he did not know about!
His fight then took on a different form. In another universe, prison, always alone and physically isolated: he must face the abstract machine of offices and these gentlemen, these grey, anonymous men, and resist torture sessions because…
There’s no reason because… He has no reason to be here. Absurd: for crimes he didn’t commit. He doesn’t know what the machine and the grey men who torture him want to know. He has no reason to talk or not to talk. He only knows that even if he sometimes dreams of what his life could have been like with a beloved woman, hanging a child’s laundry out of the window, his destiny was not to be Frank, husband and father, his destiny is the one he chose, without because… to be resistant against everyone, against everything, against Frank.
He did what he had to do.
And the young girl who was his victim because he felt a love he refused to acknowledge. The one he thought, on several occasions, that she was like the others, is there. With his father. That he had chosen, not knowing why.
And she speaks neither of pain nor forgiveness, she knows that he is unhappy and says nothing about it. She’s not like the others. She came here, just to tell him she loves him.
With his father, who also understood. He whose son committed suicide and who puts his hand on his shoulder, like a father. And tells him about the hard job of being a man.
1 – La neige était sale de Georges Simenon Livre de Poche, 1948, 284 pages
2 – Below, a brief note on the film : La neige était sale, film from Luis Saslavsky, 1953, 1h41
The snow was dirty. The film.
Based on Georges Simenon’s novel, Luis Saslavsky made a film, very different from the note presented above.
Franck’s behaviour is largely induced by his family environment, the absence of a father, of course, but above all by the conflicting feelings he has for a mother, a prostitute, who placed him as a nanny, who then became a brothel owner. Which ensures him a material well-being….
In a flashback, a scene illustrates this situation: the mother’s visit, accompanied by a potential father, to the nanny…
Without faith or law, Franck seeks his place in a dangerous environment. He stole and killed, twice. But is arrested for acts he didn’t commit.
The film is located: in France, during the German occupation of the Second World War. In this post-war period, a story that takes place during the Occupation cannot avoid talking about heroic resistance
He is incarcerated with the resistance fighters who take advantage of an air alert to try to escape. Uprising detainees are killed. But Franck took advantage of their rebellion to escape and return to his mother’s house. A brief escape, as he was denounced by one of his mother’s residents and became again a prisoner.
Frank is not a heroic resistance fighter. He’s just a thug in prison with some resistance fighters. For reasons of censorship, it is said that the story is set in a Central European country.
Franck’s story goes from an unhappy childhood to a criminal youth in a complicated world he doesn’t understand. He ends, however, by finding his redemption in the love shared with the young girl who has been also his victim. And a father at the same time…
But too late.