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A musical drawing room farce set in Paris in October, 1925. Gilberte, in middle-age, flirts with men but loves her husband Georges, wishing he were more demonstrative. He's negotiating a deal with an American, Eric Thomson, who turns out to be Gilberte's first husband from an annulled and secret stateside marriage. Along with her sister Arlette, Gilberte begs Eric not to tell Georges about the marriage. Meanwhile, a young artist, Charly, pursues Gilberte while Arlette tries to match him with the young Huguette, who loves him. Will Eric play along or try to re-win Gilberte's affection? Can Gilberte play one off against another? And who will manage to kiss whom on the lips? Written by
Alain Resnais was extremely comfortable with opulence in 'Last Year at Marienbad', and Alain Robbe-Grillet felt right at home in this, with his serialized writing. I hadn't thought that much about this taste for luxury till I saw his 2003 film of Andre Barde's 1925 operetta, 'Pas Sur la Bouche.'
This is easily one of the lightest, most exquisite filmed musicals ever made, and quite as unexpected a thing as possible in this age. There are some modern aspects: the luxury is greater luxury than in the past, but does not ever seem like gluttony; it is not like an exhibition of 100 Burne-Jones paintings, for example, which was about the number in a 1999 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum here--and that many at once makes one fairly sick.
All of the songs are charming, and even the one ugly one is (but only because it is only one; it is truly unpleasant to the ear and could have been styled better even with such meager material): this is the song that Eric Thomson (played by Lambert Wilson) sings with Arlette (Isabelle Nanty) when he is discovered to be doing business with George Valandray (Pierre Arditi) as well as being Valandray's wife Gilberte's (Sabine Azema) first husband (their American-produced marriage was not recognized upon her return to France, although her reasons for dissatisfaction with him are not made entirely clear). Thomson's French seems to have disappeared and he keeps responding to Arlette with "Whaddya say?" and "Whaddya know?" and this is irritating and does not even particularly form a purposeful dissonance with the rest of the graceful and casually elegant Parisian-style music. However, it is followed quickly by a group song when everyone is about to sit down to a "simple meal," which looks rather more as if composed by Escoffier or Pelleprat, and, very campily, Thomson's French reappears as if by magic as he joins all the French people in their tuneful paean to the repast they will consume (in silence, one wishes, but cannot hope for.) This "magical device" is subtle enough to be a considerable improvement over the "spontaneous" bursting into song by the wedding party at "I Say a Little Prayer for You" in 'My Best Friend's Wedding.'
The luscious orchestrations of the songs remind one of the Marguerite Monnot-Alexandre Breffort score for 'Irma La Douce'--as in "Dis-donc," and decades of this kind of sound at the Casino de Paris, at the Folies Bergere.
There is a lot of red, many plummy reds, in the lavish sets, but it is not discordant. One does notice that the film is almost entirely set in interiors, and the courtyard of witchlike (and sublimely hilarious) Mme. Foin (Darry Cowl) is about the only contact with a little remembrance of sky one sees; but this is usual for sex farce.
Everyone is involved with everyone, and it's so silly that only in the viewing does it have life; in the retelling it doesn't have a grain of substance, so I am not going to bother. The players are uniformly characterful and theatrical, and Sabine Azema is superlatively middle-aged-sexy and spirited, while Jalil Lespert has the biggest Frenchest face since Maurice Chevalier: He's truly a major talent. Audrey Tautou seems to be imitating Twiggy in 'the Boyfriend' sometimes, which is cool enough.
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