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Four versions of the same story, first in the perspective of a theatre play, second in the perspective of a silent film, third in the perspective of a film of the 50s and finally in a biblical philosophical perspective.
Manoel de Oliveira
Luís Miguel Cintra,
The comfortable daily routines of aging Parisian actor Gilbert Valence, 76, are suddenly shaken when he learns that his wife, daughter, and son-in-law have been killed in a car crash. Having to take care of his now-orphaned grandson, he struggles to go on with his lifelong acting career like he's used to. But the roles he is offered -- a flashy TV show and a hectic last-minute replacement in an English-language film of Joyce's Ulysses -- finally convince him that it's time to retire. Written by
A beautiful subject, beautifully delivered, but not for a feature film
This is a superbly played, superbly framed film about a very interesting idea. It is simply three times too long. The film follows an aging actor, Gilbert Valence (Michel Piccoli), from the moment he learns his wife, their only child and her husband died in a car accident, to the moment he suddenly turns old.
Valence, who is either shown or heard in every scene, has very few words to say except when playing, first in Ionesco's Le Roi se meurt, then in the Tempest (both in French) and last while shooting a film in English, Joyce's Ulysses. That last role ends with the title words, I'm going back home, when Valence simply walks out rather than deal with his failure to master Joyce's words while keeping the wanted character and pacing.
The remaining minutes show him walking in a Paris suburb, from the studio to his home, while mumbling his role in English. This gives us the time to realize that all the while, since his wife's death, he's been sticking close to home, going through the well-known daily habits of his life, and equally well-known roles. Only the short appearance in Ulysses would have taken him into new territory. Turning old is choosing not to go outside the life one knows. In Valence's case, it's rather not going outside of what is left of his life, once the most important people in it have been killed.
The only other major speaking role belongs to Valence's agent, Georges (Antoine Chappey). Unfortunately, it is marred by an absence of those concrete details that convince the viewer that this is not sketch for a character, but a living human being. One scene, for instance, has Valence refuse a TV role which Georges is pushing because of the money involved, but Georges only gets to call it "lots", without giving even an approximation.
That deficiency in realistic detail mars other aspects of the film too. However, John Malkovich, playing the American film director, breaks through, he is quite convincing. My suspicion is that he wrote his own lines.
Even if the deficiency were fixed, though, Oliveira would still only have material for thirty minutes. His own failure is in not facing up to that. But Piccoli's playing is sublime, and the wordless showing of Valence's implicit choices through well-framed moments, is also a lesson in filming.
5 of 7 people found this review helpful.
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