Cet Amour-Là review

:. Director: Josée Dayan
:. Starring: Jeanne Moreau, Aymeric Demarigny
:. Running Time: 1:40
:. Year: 2001
:. Country: France


What this film really offers is a chance to study the marvelous Jeanne Moreau: her aged yet beautiful face, her still quite energetic and strong body, her velvet voice, her startling smile. Her persona, period. Without its stunning star, the film goes nowhere. With her, it also goes nowhere, but at least you get to go nowhere with Jeanne Moreau.

The movie is about the last 16 years in the life of French novelist/playwright/scenarist Marguerite Duras (Moreau). Most famous here for her Academy Award nominated screenplay, Hiroshima, Mon Amour, Duras spent these years in the company of Yann Andréa, a man 38 years her junior (also, the author of the book upon which this film was based.) In the film, we really have no idea who this man is and apparently neither did Duras. Nor did she want to know. Yann simply moves in with Duras after he presents himself, adoring, to her. She accepts him and then, for what feels like 16 years to the audience, she repetitively throws him out, drinks herself into a stupor, verbally trashes him, writes her final works (with his secretarial help) and spouts out loud her theories about life, love, death and writing. There are no real conversations, nothing much else happens (he does take her to rehab toward the end of the movie, but by that point, do we care?) and she finally dies. Then he writes the book and the movie apparently gets made.

The film is probably trying to be stylistically a mirror of the writer's style and her philosophy. But it just doesn't work as a movie. What we see are the beginnings of scenes, the initiation of intense conflict, and before anything develops there's a fade to black. Then, fade in to another moment, another day or night, and usually a repeat of some earlier conflict. Or, rather, a repeat of the beginning of another conflict or issue or piece of action. And again, before anything can really develop, the sequence yields to another fade out. The one or two scenes that do have a beginning, middle and end are memorable, as are the ones that are montage-like. For example, we see the couple walking along the beach, holding each other close. As if it were part of a montage. But such a scene is not connected to one before or after in any particular way. Strangely, scenes with food in them are memorable: one in which the couple are ordering at a restaurant (this is following her discharge from the alcohol treatment center) and Duras wants to choose the brand of lemonade, as if she were ordering a bottle of wine. I think we remember and enjoy the food scenes because food is concrete, earthy, touchable, sensual, and so little else in this film is. That is, save Jeanne Moreau.

The character (the only other character in the film!) of Yann Andréa, her lover, seemed "translucent," as a friend so described him. There is a sense of light, yet no real clarity about him. Early in the film Duras says that all she knows about him is his name, which has "Stein" attached at the end of it, and that he's a Jew. Nothing more is given about him, and nothing more is revealed or implied in the movie. This bland, blank, seemingly simple man appeared only to want to be with Duras, either to take care of her, or to lean on her. But we never really know or understand him. Here is real potential for drama, but it's completely wasted. Who and why was this person attaching himself Duras? We, the audience, never find out, and the characters in the movie certainly have no clue. That may be the message, but man, such is dull movie-making. If it weren't for the superior cinematography (Caroline Champetier) which opens up the intensity of the two-person box (really only one person) with the gorgeous Breton countryside, I doubt if even Ms. Moreau would have been enough. The original music by David Lynch's often-used Angelo Badalamenti is barely noticeable. Perhaps the vision for this film (as suggested by the hiring of Badalamenti) was to play into the otherworldliness of love and death. But movies are so damn real, only the most creative of filmmakers can manage much success communicating abstractions. Here, the failure in communication was such that I had trouble staying awake.

Yet, many in the audience (at the San Francisco Film Festival) seemed to appreciate the film. I think filmgoers these days are so thankful for anything demonstrating intelligence on the screen that they go away happy, even if they may be mystified. Or maybe (as I suspect) their appreciation was for the fine actress, who clearly threw herself into the person of Marguerite Duras with great honesty. Or, maybe, ideas that emanate around Jeanne Moreau are perhaps automatically watchable. But for me, I seem to at least need Moreau to have maybe a good meal set before her, something sensual, real and understandable. Then we can talk.

  Carol Saturansky

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