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The restored 130-minute version of Two English Girls is something of a
misfire but not without compensations. For a director who complained about
the overly-literary nature of French cinema, his mise-en-scene is very
clumsy here, with excessive use of narration not just to fill in gaps but to
tell us the characters thoughts and feelings during scenes where, had he
done his job properly, we should know. At times it threatens to become a
slideshow accompaniment to a book reading.
The plot ambles along directionlessly as Jean-Pierre Leaud's selfish young Frenchman selfishly destroys two sisters' lives without ever finding happiness himself. It's very much fantasy-fulfilment, with the two embodying Madonna and Whore and at times threatens to turn into a distaff Jules et Jim as everyone is oh so civilized about it all. The casting is also problematic. Kika Markham is fine as the free-spirit of sorts, but Stacey Tendeter is less effective as her 'purer' sister and the casting of the minor British roles is haphazard at best - David Markham is fine as a fortune teller, but the next-door neighbour is not exactly a natural actor and one scene features a London Bobby who looks about as English as Raimu on a particularly jowelly day.
It's one of those films that always seems to be on for another hour no matter how far into it you get, and it doesn't reward the effort with more than minor pleasures. But it is nice to see composer Georges Delerue in a small role as an estate agent and for all its clumsiness and overlength it has its moments and a mildly affecting ending. It's just a shame getting there took so long.
A mildly moving, inoffensive Truffaut movie about a young French bloke
(played by Truffaut regular Jean-Pierre Léaud, far more remarkable in
movies such as Les Quatrecent Coups) who in turn romances two English
(or rather, Welsh!) sisters, set during the first decade of the 20th
century. It's a French movie and features a love triangle, so that for
a start could have turned it into a potentially unoriginal and
cliché-ridden affair. Yet the main problem I had with it wasn't so much
the well-treaded theme of the love triangle, as the voice-over which
somehow gave the feeling the narrative was rather weak (and I suspect
it was). The characters of the two sisters, especially the older
sister, were surprisingly better drawn than the male lead's (or maybe
it just had something to do with the fact the two actresses playing
them were more appealing than the inexpressive, boyish Léaud - I simply
could not bring myself to believe that these two girls would both feel
so attracted to such a bland young man! He was definitely more engaging
as Antoine Doinel!). The movie was also successful at portraying
something of the difficulty in relations between the sexes in the
Edwardian era - how young men and women really needed to go clandestine
if they hoped to even get to know each other decently (not just
carnally but also emotionally). The issue of women's sexuality, and how
it was virtually denied them in this epoch - the price to be paid for
so-called respectability - is also a theme that's successfully conveyed
by the movie. How could a woman rightfully claim her own sexual
identity in such a day and age? An interesting question worth raising.
Fortunately, we were spared any simplistic clichés contrasting
"libertine France" vs. "strait-laced Britain" as well.
This is on the whole also a good-looking movie, with lovely sets, costumes and photography. One question: why does everyone in the movie (including the title) keep referring to the two sisters as English when they live in Wales and define themselves as Welsh?
there are two things that held this film back from being a truffaut
masterpiece: the voice over and jean pierre leaud.
the voice over is overused in this film and is hardly effective in many cases. the voice over always sound rushed, hasty and monotonous, it hardly treats the story sensitively and it sounds like truffaut (the one doing the voice over) is trying to say it as fast as he can so he can move on to something else in the story. the problem is he uses the voice over to explain complex emotions of the characters and he could have used someone else to do the voice over with more expression and pace. this brings me to my second problem with the film. the voice over is often explaining the complex emotions of leaud's character, claude, while leaud wears the same expression of confusion and dismay throughout the film. he says his lines in that same quiet, shy voice for most of the film and looks uncomfortable and timid in the role. my suspicion is that truffaut used voice over to compensate for leaud's lack of acting ability. leaud is thoroughly miscast as claude, a complex character who is at the center of the love triangle.
but somehow, the film does pull together and is a very moving story about what happens when three people distrust their instincts and refuse to make decisions about their feelings for one another. anne and claude hide their intention of committing to each other behind this french idea of "free love" that neither really buys into. muriel is a very religious woman who treads very carefully with claude because of his ideas on love and sex and has some very strong guilty feelings about her sexual desire. claude...well according to the voice over, he prefers to love them from afar than to choose between them. he wants both women, but knows he can't so he subconsciously refuse to choose between them and just go back and forth between the two when the relationship with one becomes difficult.
anne and muriel are similar to other truffaut heroines. anne is more forgiving and nurturing and patient, very much like Julie from day for night. muriel is the unstable passionate one who could sacrifice her sanity for a man, very much like catherine from jules and jim or adele H. they're both well acted by kika markham and stacey tendeter, and they're the ones who carry this film. the photography wasn't as lush as i expected it to be, but it has enough eye candy for those who love costume dramas with nice houses and gardens. the voice over and the dialogue are very well written and is poetic without sounding trite most of the time.
the film could have been a masterpiece of truffaut if he'd got someone else to do the voice over and got a more competent actor for claude. the film compensates for these weaknesses with superb writing and good performances from the rest of the cast.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Growing up, I eagerly saw each new Truffaut film when it opened in the
United States. This one had the biggest impact on me of all.
It's interesting seeing the dichotomy in the reviews here: about half call the film melodramatic, pointless, and dull. The other half find it beautiful, touching, even a masterpiece.
The flaws are easy to pick out. Leaud is awfully low-key to the point of blandness, and the (thankfully) few English language scenes clearly suffer from Truffaut's unfamiliarity with the language -- he failed to catch some really bad English line readings.
But the narration totally works for me, giving the film the "tempus fugit" feel of a great nineteenth century novel. The purposefully rushed, monotone narration keeps the story from becoming overly sentimental. The voice-over sounds like the cold wind of Fate, sweeping the characters through the years from naive youth to the disillusionment of early middle age.
I think one's response to the film has a lot to do with one's own nature: if you have loved passionately and experienced serious heartbreak, you may really GET this movie. If you're a cynical hipster who is simply embarrassed by passion, romantic love, and strong emotions, it's not for you. This is a highly emotional film for highly emotional viewers.
Muriel's letter scene will divide these two groups of viewers. Some posters here call it laughable and ridiculous, perhaps because they're sexually immature or repressed, so the topic of masturbation automatically gives them the giggles. To me, this scene is heartbreaking, when you realize this poor young woman's guilt over masturbating has warped her life and spoiled her chances for happiness. It shows how a small misunderstanding or character flaw can lead to loneliness or lifelong unhappiness.
This film affects me more strongly than the more famous and acclaimed JULES ET JIM, where the characters' actions strike me as more peculiar and clinical than moving. But that's just me.
Few films give such a strong sense of time passing as this one, and life running through the hourglass as we poor human beings bumble, blunder, and suffer as we search for love.
The final scene of an aging Leaud walking through a changed Paris he hardly recognizes as the city of his youth is unforgettable, justifying the movie's length. With a shorter running time, the film could never give you such a sense of time passing, characters growing, changing, and missing chances for happiness.
For those who respond to it, this is one of the most beautiful, affecting films of the 1970s.
The actor Jean-Pierre Leaud, the child star of Truffaut's breakthrough
'400 Blows' and who plays the protagonist Claude in 'Deux Anglaises et
le Continent' symbolises the flawed and tender charm at the heart of
this 1971 film. Leaud can't act. Nevertheless, by dint of his solemn
Gallic charm and beauty, there is something deeply moving about this
turn-of-the- century cross-Channel menage-a-trois.
The story is an adaptation of a novel by Truffaut's beloved author Henri Pierre Roche who also wrote the novel which inspired 'Jules et Jim'. 'Deux Anglaises et le Continent' is written in diary form from the points of view of three characters, Anne, Muriel and Claude who make up the narrative's central love triangle. The story is basically one of thwarted love. Both English sisters develop strong feelings for their French 'brother' Claude, which eventually turns into destructive sexual passion. As such, the film is an inversion of 'Jules et Jim', which was a comic celebration of love between two close male friends and one girl. Stories of doomed love appealed to Truffaut.
When it appeared in cinemas, the film was a critical and commercial flop. In '71 society was in the grip of sexual liberation, and here was Truffaut, who had reflected the zeitgeist so perfectly six years earlier with a whimsical celebration of liberated passion in 'Jules et Jim' serving up a period piece more reminiscent of the buttoned-up prudery of a Bronte novel.
There are many things wrong with the film. There is an odd tension between the acceptance of Claude's promiscuity as a French fait accompli on the one hand, and the sisters' chaste Victorian values on the other. The film also contains anachronisms throughout which it's fun to spot, including modern electricity pylons. The first half of the film is set in Wales but you can tell it was filmed in Normandy (Truffaut didn't want to travel to a non-French speaking location.) There are several scenes in English in which the dialogue makes you squirm. And, in my opinion, it was an error of judgement on the film maker's part to record the voice-over narration himself in such a hasty, lacklustre tone.
And yet, and yet... There is something moving and wonderful at the heart of this film because it is naive. When it was made, society had moved on and women were taking the pill and changing history; the last thing it wanted was a pastel mood-piece about two thirty year-old virgins. But there is an innocence at the film's heart which is not sentimental but you could call it very male. On the one side you have Leaud's truly shocking moments of ham acting, stilted dialogue, unbelievable period settings and a generally plodding tone, but in the balance these are outweighed by the beauty of the cinematography, the fine performances from Kika Markham and Stacey Tendeter, the music, and Truffaut's genuine feeling for the intricacies of love in all its colours.
"Two English Girls" is a lyrical, amusing slice of Truffaut's unique vision and style of filmmaking. Like all great artists, he can shift his tone from lushly romantic to deadpan comic, from poetic to amusingly prosaic without missing a beat, and all the while keeping his story all of one piece. If you love Truffaut's voice, you'll love this film - charming, personal, light-hearted, with a touch of melancholy. Beautifully filmed, ably acted, with Leaud playing his benign cad so well.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Two English Girls and the Continent belongs to what I privately call
"the other Truffaut"; this wouldn't be the place to specify why I
consider some of Truffaut's films (The Four Hundred Blows; Stolen
Kisses; The Wild Child; Domicile conjugal; The Story of Adele H; The
Man Who Loved Women; The Green Room; The Last Metro) as belonging to a
pretty distinct class that I have titled: the other Truffaut.
Notwithstanding, Truffaut's corpus is remarkable as one of the most
astonishingly beautiful works of his century.
Truffaut's cinema is the complement and the result of a very particular and highly differentiated world-view. In a genuine and authentic way, he was aware of his singularity. One of his aimsor rather of his meansof his deliberate meanswas to tell dirty things in an ingenuous, naive and gentlemanly way.
Truffaut used stylized narrative forms to explore the substratum of the couple relations. He did this in even a more deliberate way than the movie authors he promoted in the '50s. Yet his approach is not a spoofing one; his exoticism isn't mockexoticism; it is related to some ancient forms of the French culture, to some metarealist traditions. To a certain Renoir (the one that didn't pretend to be naturalistic or Zolist, but who crafted exquisite _divertissements). It's not that Truffaut's picturesque is a fake one; it is strictly subordinated.
In Truffaut's case, a quite peculiar world-view got the chance of a full, direct expression. What is this quality of Truffaut?What is the gist of Truffaut's art?Some have expressed it in indirect or inappropriate or even hostile way;they felt that particular quality; yet their perception is clumsily or inimically expressedso with Antonioni, who disliked Truffaut's softness and tenderness and feminineness ,if one might say so.Mrs. Deneuve, who was Truffaut's mistress (they had no children together), spoke about Truffaut's feminine side or perception. I do not think this is properly expressed.
What needs to be indicated is his delicacy, subtlety, freshness, fineness, gentleness, mildness, and his frank tactfulness.
His subtle, smooth irony, his civilized ,polished and indiscreet humor, his highly humane quality in exposing and defining in artistic terms the secret substratum of the human relations, of the desire and of the loneliness and alienationwith a sense of the piquant.
As in J&J, whose declared complement it is, this approach helps, enables Truffaut to narrate with due smoothness and finesse a disturbing and twisted story. The same shamelessness, the same suavity.
Truffaut has a very cute topic for his movie:--the feminine masturbation (and a dose of lesbianism), at the little girls (needless to say that such things are still strictly taboo for most of the mainstream cinema );--then the _defloration.
As some other Truffaut films, TEG contains some piquant nudity and sexuality.
A word about the beauty of Truffaut's actors:--a beauty that is generally mild and unobtrusive and discreetyet very physical and subtly sensual and bodily (Jean-Pierre Léaud,Kika Markham,Stacey Tendeter,Marie Mansart).
One more thing to be spoken of:this one is a period movieand consequently there is a fair amount of a certain _colorist instinct, joy and gustothat I will leave the pleasure to my fair reader to discover for him/herself. Truffaut flirted here somehow with a certain trend of aestheticism and stylization that are customary in the period films. (One can perceive the trepidation of the _erotography of the epochthe interest for this kind of literary production.) On the other hand, Truffaut's huge interest in making such period films is the pendant and the complement of his studious love for a certain class of literature. Truffaut was, one knows it, such a good reader . (On the other hand,when he adapted a book, that book was never a mere pretext; on the contraryit was the hallmark. Truffaut adapted only things that he respected. One sees that is not true about, say, Welles or Hitchcockwho go beyond the literary pretext; Truffaut reveres the book, he deepens it, he remains true to it.)
The beauty of the main actors; the finesse; the writer loved by Truffaut; the twisted content; the indiscreet topic of masturbation and bodily life; the hidden substratum; the tactfulnessI hope my fair readers will give this very fine movie the esteem it deserves. Truffaut's stylizations are strictly functional; they are never vain, useless decorations; they wholly belong to the style and are directed towards the movie's meaning and are fully adequate.
Truffaut is as true, as authentic as he is smooth and elegant. Through the stylistics of the social life, he reached the stylistics of the inner life.
I would include Two English Girls and the Continent in a list of Truffaut's best tenor maybe even five!movieswith Jules et Jim (1962), The Soft Skin, Mississippi Mermaid, Vivement Dimanche! (1983) .
Another great film by François Truffaut. This one resemble «Jules et Jim»
but this time it's about a man, Claude (played by Jean-Pierre Léaud), and
the love he's developing (it's reciprocal) for two sisters from Wales,
and Muriel (played by Kika Markham and Stacey Tendeter). Usual emotional
twists that are a trademark of Truffaut. Nothing is easy, and even love
be extremely cruel.
The film is moving and the acting is very good. The photography and the use of the camera is also pretty good.
Out of 100, I gave it 81.
One must try to watch Anne and Muriel with lovely feelings in heart as Truffaut has created a masterpiece of love.The love portrayed in this film requires sacrifice.This is a kind of cinematic oeuvre which will absolutely captivate your senses.You will wonder how Nestor Almendros has been able to create remarkable images.Everything about this film is perfect.This is a film to be watched with your partner provided you have ever loved someone in your life.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Even at the full length that its director intended, this movie strains
to convey the complications of story development and motivation that
presumably make up the novel on which it is based. The voice-overs (by
Truffaut himself) are an attempt to fill in the blanks, but they are
rushed and in some cases seem like substitutes for what should have
been rendered dramatically.
Nevertheless "Two English Girls" offers some of the satisfactions of a good novel, searching out the motivations of Anne, Muriel, and Claude, showing the shifting interactions of these people over time, and in the end leaving us with a sense of the inexorable passage of time and regret for what could have been.
What could have been is the fulfillment of love. The story tells how, time and again, love is thwarted or suppressed--by Anne's feeling of inferiority in comparison with her sister, by Muriel's secret puritan guilt, by Claude's self absorption, and by his interfering mother.
Another weakness of the movie is the portrayal of Claude by Jean-Pierre Leaud. Given what should have been a profoundly moving story, he is surprisingly inexpressive, and in appearance he could be any young man walking down a street in Paris today--not the Paris of 1900.
One of the great strengths of the movie is the wonderful cinematography by Nestor Almendros, including interior shots of the girls' house in "Wales," the panoramas of the landscape in Normandy (which was intended to stand in for Wales), the view of the retreating land from a moving train, and the tracking shot of Anne moving through the forest as seen from a lake in Switzerland.
All in all, a very good movie. I am grateful to Turner Classic Movies for the opportunity to see it.
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