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The son of a dead Italian nobleman and a wealthy American woman forgets the disappointment of finding he has no talent for being a painter by succumbing to the sexual advances of an amoral model who believes in indiscriminate love affairs.
A philosophy teacher restless with the need to do something with his life meets a young woman suspected of driving an artist to his death. He finds the very simple Cecilia irritating but develops a sexual rapport with her. Obsessed with the need to own and tormented by her inability to respond to him, he becomes increasingly violent in a quest he can't name - a quest that slowly begins to undermine his certainties. Written by
L.H. Wong <email@example.com>
Abstinence is turning you sour; give it up.
Really? Do I know her?
No, I met her in odd circumstances a few weeks ago.
Really? You must be pleased.
You're quite wrong, I don't like her at all. She's totally uninteresting. I'm trying to get rid of her.
Why? Is she ugly?
Is she stupid then?
No. Not at all. She never says anything stupid. It's complicated. She bores me. I have no contact with her. Or rather only physical contact.
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When you adapt a work by Alberto Moravia to the screen, you know that human detachment, alienation or themes thereof are going to dominate.
That's what happens in 'L'Ennui' -- characters driven by excess, searching for the unsearchable or the unreachable. The ambiguity of the word 'ennui' fits very well: in English translation, the word can mean not only boredom but also human emptiness. This is what I believe director Cedric Kahn was aiming for, and he's certainly on target.
This is a descent into an obsessive abyss by Martin, played by Charles Berling with such frenetic neuroticism that he all but leaps off the screen. He lives and suffers through the lives of others. He meets Cecilia, a 17-year-old artist's model, stunningly portrayed by Sophie Guilleman. Martin asks questions about the artist, who died shortly after an obsessive love affair with Sophie. Despite his extensive intellectual training in philosophy (a Moravia-Kahn 'in-joke' here), Martin cannot fathom the emotional emptiness of Cecilia, who is a character straight out of, well, the existential literature of Moravia and Camus (Cecilia reminded me of the latter's Mersault in 'L'Etranger,' a classic study of human detachment).
Martin asks Cecelia endless questions about emotional matters, but she cannot answer them. She only understands transient forms of pleasure (never 'happiness'), and her laissez-faire attitude drives Martin into increasing levels of madness. He thinks he loves her, but he has no understanding of love at all, and cannot find the centre of Cecilia's amiable indifference. He screams about 'possessing' her, as if she were a commodity. She neither loves nor hates him; she is simply neutral, which Martin cannot grasp.
This is a brilliant work on a difficult subject, although it's perhaps about 20 minutes too long. Slowly and meticulously, Kahn unpeels the layers of the endless human dilemma called love.
Once again, the French have delivered a film that just wouldn't see the light of day in Hollywood. I can hear the producers in LaLaLand now: who wants to pay for a film that focuses on a basic philosophical problem: the nature of human existence? Fortunately, we can still see these kinds of films, but they'll never come from Hollywood.
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