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These two gems have are an experimental, laid-back affair: instead of upping the ante visually, they have chosen to embark the viewer into a labyrinth of a plot, peppered with unforgettable dialogues served by nine characters, all played by two actors. Add to this the fact that this is also meant to be an anthropological view of that most bizarre people -the rural British- and you have a pair of truly unique and endearing movies, cinematic twins if you will.
Smoking and No Smoking end up being a double-treat: one of the most mordantly funny British comedy in years and possibly the best French films of their decade. The fact that Ayckbourn's spirit still flows with manic glee, filtered by Jaoui and Bacri's masterful adaptation, is a sizable feat when you know that French and British humors are generally deemed totally incompatible.
But despite the great texts, the unique sets (intentionally "theatrical"), the perfect, low-key costumes and the impeccable direction and editing, the real showstoppers are Sabine Azema and Pierre Arditi's with their multiple performances. Each and every one of their characters is played memorably, making for far more than an extended acting stunt on their part: you actually feel for and connect with each and every one of their incarnations, forgetting completely that they are played by the same actors, you are drawn into their characters' sometime painful, sometime painfully funny dilemmas (which all get resolved since all the possibilities are shown).
This is a UFO to me: a hilarious, touching comedy with absolutely no flaws (even though some have said the running times were a little self-indulging), an experimental film that "works" and never feels forced, a triumph of acting... I suppose some will find it overbearing, but actors, directors and screenwriters alike should make this one of their necessary (albeit hard-to-come-by) viewings because if you're caught by the magic on screen, you won't be turning back. Although the films can be seen in any order, i would recommend you start with No Smoking as it offers a more supple introduction to the films' "method" and characters and also because Smoking is probably the better of the two and thus, you've got a dramatic crescendo going for yourself.
For people who don't necessarily like French cinema or who don't understand the British: watch these,they're the kind of movie miracles that belong to everyone. They are that great.
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