Peter Brooks' film of Marguerite Duras' Moderato Cantabile is one of those good ideas that should make for a better film, but in its determinedly artistic distance and relentless melancholy it never draws you into its characters lives enough to make you care about the inevitable outcome. Jeanne Moreau's dissatisfied wife of the local steel mill owner finds herself increasingly fascinated with a crime of passion after overhearing the victim's scream and seeing her lover/killer taken away by the police and is drawn repeatedly back to the scene of the crime. Equally fascinated by her, Jean Paul Belmondo's steelworker starts inventing details about the doomed lovers to get closer to her. Even though she knows he's lying, his version starts to fill a void in her soul and a need for a vicarious romantic tragedy of her own but from the monotonous gloom of their surroundings and the desperate emptiness of their meetings, it's obvious a happy ending isn't on the cards...
It perfectly captures the dull grey feel of a small dead end coastal town and Armand Tirard's crisp black and white CinemaScope photography (beautifully preserved on the Australian DVD) is easily the best thing about the film, but the film is as drained of real passion as the characters and the minimalism and predictability of every plot and emotional development of its determinedly internal narrative (you just know you're going to hear that less than convincing scream again) makes it all seem rather superficial and uninvolving. There may well be more nuance and meaning in Duras' original story, but Brook never really finds a cinematic equivalent with the result that there's less than meets the eye to the film. Still, if it were made today the plot would suddenly make a U-turn into woman-in-peril territory as Belmondo turned out to be the real killer and Moreau his next intended victim, so for sparing us that cliché at least it probably deserves an extra point.
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