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Coeurs, the latest achievement of French master Alain Resnais, stands
out as one of the finest European productions of 2006, a fact confirmed
by the Silver Lion it was awarded in Venice. While the critics and
audience at the festival were more anxious to see other films, like The
Black Dahlia or INLAND EMPIRE, this small, intimate, bittersweet
character study quietly moved towards well deserved recognition,
proving that the great New Wave director had lost none of his special
Like one of his best known films, Smoking/No Smoking, Coeurs is based on a play by Alan Ayckbourn. But whereas Smoking/No Smoking retained its untarnished Englishness, Resnais makes it pretty clear that he's keeping his new work as distant as possible from its literary source: the title is completely different (as the French filmmaker thought Private Fears in Public Places was misleading in regards to the subject), and the story is set in Paris, with the inevitable (and, I might add, quite brilliant) changes in the dialogue that this requires.
The film focuses on six people struggling to achieve or maintain meaningful relationships. There's the aging Thierry (André Dussollier, funny and heartbreaking at the same time) who has to fight his feelings for his younger assistant (Sabine Azéma). There's his sister Gaelle (Isabelle Carré), who goes out on blind dates every night and always comes back hugely disappointed. There's Nicole (Laura Morante), a frustrated woman who's trying to find a nice apartment whilst dealing with her unemployed and increasingly detached boyfriend, Dan (Lambert Wilson). And there's Lionel (Pierre Arditi, a laconic revelation), a lonely bartender who has to take care of his father, the rude, sex-obsessed Arthur (Claude Rich, heard but not seen). Over the course of four days, these characters will meet and affect each others'lives in unexpected, amusing, but also very touching ways.
With this masterwork, Resnais proves himself a true auteur, telling us an apparently simple tale of love and longing with a direct, honest approach, from the hilarious beginning to the moving, open conclusion. In adapting Ayckbourn's stage work, he manages the impossible, which is to make the movie look theatrical but not overly bizarre, using subtle, unpretentious tricks: the speaking parts belong solely to the six leading actors (plus Rich's priceless vocal cameo), every single scene takes place indoors (and the locations are always the same), and, most importantly, sequences are linked by a metaphorical snowfall, which gives the film a poetic, almost magical feel.
Those who thought Closer could have benefited from less swearing and more sympathy for its characters should watch Coeurs. It may not exactly end on a happy note, but at least it doesn't risk sliding into misanthropy. Beneath the apparent pessimism, there's a heart beating. The heart of an experienced director who hasn't stopped to amaze us.
I've just seen the movie today, and enjoyed it a lot, even if I won't range it among my Resnais favorites. The story in itself is simple but full of allusions and "non-dits". It reminds me altogether of "Smoking/No Smoking", without the narrative twist, and "On connaît la chanson", without the songs. I like the way Resnais creates a whole universe, half realistic, half dreamlike, with only six characters, limited sets and omnipresent snow. These six characters struggle with loneliness, butting against various obstacles : wrong match, bad luck, lack of will or perverse manipulation. The general atmosphere is kind of sad, but in a cool and soft way (snowy if I may say so), and with humorous touches, especially all that relates to videotapes and an invisible but perfectly audible grumpy old man played by Claude Rich (which makes seven characters actually). The acting is impeccable, with a special note for Sabine Azema, André Dussolier and Pierre Arditi. And an interesting cast for Lambert Wilson (playing against type).
Adapted from Alan Ayckbourn's recent (2004) play, this movie has a
structure that reminds me of two well known plays. The structure of
some 50 short scenes brings to mind Noel Coward's "Cavalcade". Having
plots revolving around 6 characters draws an obvious comparison to
Luigi Pirandello's "Six characters in search of an author". But both
similarities are superficial. "Private fears" is a distinctly different
The interrelationship between the six characters is somewhat random, but clever for this very randomness. These various relationships include real estate agent and client, office co-workers, brother/sister, part-time aged-parent-sitter and employer, engaged couple living together, bartender and familiar client, blind dates. Each character is party to two or three of these relationships. Some of these relationships we see right from the beginning; others evolve right before our eyes. Outwardly casual relationships have subtle intimacy; apparently intimate relationships turn out to be rather casual. The emotional spectrum goes from heart-breaking poignancy to hilarious farce. There is never a dull moment in this movie, (except to those who have a tendency to fall asleep UNLESS there is a car chase, an explosion or steaming sex).
"Private fears" also offers a good mix of art house appeal and mainstream entertainment. Artsy scenes, not overused, enrich the film throughout: entire scene shot from overhead, montage transformation of a conversation at a kitchen table to the snowy outdoors - just two most conspicuous examples. Nor does the movie shy away from cliché comic situations when then are called for.
This portrayal of ultimate loneliness in the urban alienation of the City of Lights is brought to the audience by an excellent cast of mostly director Alain Resnais' veterans.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There are lots of reasons to love "Coeurs" . At first, I must say, I hadn't great expectations for this French adaptation of the British play "Private Fears in Public Places", by the acclaimed Alan Ackynbourn. I was wrong: actor- director- screenwriter Jean-Michel Ribes did a clever job with the script. The stories of the six characters intersect smoothly, there are a few big laughs, but the general mood of the film is bitter-sweet and pensive. The ending is in a way very pessimistic: the very true-to-life message is love is a dream, and soon or later everybody has to wake up. The film shows remarkable acting. Italian Laura Morante was awarded with the Pasinetti award in Venice, but the rest of the cast is very strong as well. Honorable mentions go to Pierre Arditi's sensitive performance, and, with lighter tones, to André Dussollier's. Alain Resnais' direction, winner of the Silver Lion at the latest Venice film festival, left in the film a distinct theatrical feeling. The repeated image of the snowfall, used between one scene and another, is appropriate and poetic. Over all a good film - recommended. 8/10 in my book.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In seminal works such as "Hiroshima, Mon Amour" and "Last Year at
Marienbad," legendary French director Alain Resnais created a whole new
vocabulary and grammar for film. His key innovation involved the
creation of the time-shuffling narrative coupled with near-subliminal
quick cuts in the editing. Ironically, his revolutionary style was
appropriated so quickly by directors the world over that the technique
became something of a cinematic cliché almost overnight (with even poor
Resnais himself falling victim to his own success, as his later films
often felt as if they too were borrowing from the master). One can even
detect Resnais' influence in such disparate American movies as "Two For
the Road" and "Slaughterhouse-Five," not to mention practically half of
all the "serious" dramas that come our way these days (i.e. "21 Grams,"
"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," "Babel").
Although his latest endeavor, "Private Fears in Public Places," takes place pretty much in a linear time frame, it still manages to tell three concurrently running stories of lost love, each set in a slightly surreal Paris where people interact with one another in stylized settings and where snow falls relentlessly in the background. The cast of characters includes an ex-soldier who has turned to alcoholism and indolence as a means of covering up a "shameful" event that happened to him while he was in the army; his beautiful fiancé who has grown increasingly frustrated by her boyfriend's indifference to her and the life he is leading; a middle-aged bartender who is having to cope with the increasingly violent temper of his irascible, ailing father; a compassionate, deeply religious caregiver who forms a bond with the old man's son; and a real estate agent who lives with his desperately lonely sister and who becomes fascinated by the pornographic tapes his seemingly prim-and-proper co-worker (who is also the caregiver) keeps loaning to him.
As a longtime admirer of Resnais' work, I wish I could say that I enjoyed "Private Fears in Public Places" more than I did. As a study of a group of lonely, unhappy people trapped in a loveless world, this extremely well-acted movie boasts a fair number of moving and even rather funny moments that perfectly capture the soul-crushing angst of modern life. The script is also commendably audacious in not providing a happily-ever-after ending for its characters. Yet, for all its virtues, the movie itself turns out to be less than the sum of its parts, primarily due to its over length and the desultory pacing that drains much of the passion and energy out of the film. Resnais and writer Jean-Michel Ribes - with Alan Ayckbourn's play as their blueprint - do a decent enough job making all the pieces of the narrative puzzle fit together into a grander scheme, but the claustrophobic, stage bound nature of the work ultimately makes us restless. And even though I acknowledge that it is probably that very iciness and claustrophobia that lie at the root of what the film is all about, that realization doesn't make the movie any more entertaining to watch.
Not a bad movie really, just not one of his best.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I think I read somewhere that Alain Resnais and Alan Ayckbourne are friends and Resnais does have an affinity with Ayckbourne's work, witness Smoking/No Smoking and now Coeurs. Several old hands turn up yet again, indeed if Resnais can be said to have a repertory company it would certainly include his long-time wife Sabine Azema, Pierre Arditi, Lambert Wilson and Andre Dussollier, all present and correct here along with first-timer Isabelle Carre with Laura Morante completing the sextet. Alas, none of the six are really happy, hardly even content; the bible-reading Azema possibly comes closest, smiling as she cleans up after unseen invalid Claude Rich - even cleaning HERSELF up when he throws food over her; Isabelle Carre is a little young to be the sister of Andre Dussollier but given her loveliness there's no real reason for her to pursue true love in the Lonelyhearts columns. All six actors shine and Resnais has opted to mark the scene changes with falling snowflakes symbolising a permanent lack of warmth in all six lives. Verdict: Hearts are trumps.
Relationships. They can be funny and sad. There is the relationship of
Charlotte (Sabine Azéma) with her co-worker Thierry (André Dussollier).
She is very religious and lends him a video of religious music. Of
course, when the TV program cuts off, he sees something I am sure she
didn't mean for him to see. Or, did she? It is not clear.
Then there is Charlotte and Lionel's (Pierre Arditi) father Arthur (Claude Rich). She is working as a caregiver in the evenings and Arthur, whom we never see, is one cantankerous old bastard. he throws soup on her, speaks foully, and screams at her.
Lionel, a bartender, has to deal with his father, and with Dan (Lambert Wilson), who got kicked out of the Army six months ago and is getting hell from his fiancée, Nicole (Laura Morante) for not finding a job. He spends his time getting plastered.
Thierry and Charlotte are funny the next day discussing the tape. Charlotte has no idea what she left on the end. Thierry is looking forward to another tape. He is not disappointed. Of course, after the second tape, he moves forward with disastrous results, but Charlotte exposes her secret to Lionel and it is just the thing to shut him up. Naturally, she has to do a lot of praying afterward.
Like I said, there is a lot that is funny, and a whole lot that is sad, but isn't that the way relationships are? Alain Resnais got a lot out of some very talented actors and presented a film that was thoroughly enjoyable.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I only discovered Resnais very recently, when I saw the masterpiece
Providence. Since then, I've been keeping an eye out for his films, so
when this turned out to be showing as part of the French Film Festival,
I knew I had to see it.
How would I rate it? At first, I wasn't so sure. Although it had its hilarious moments right from the start, I was starting to wonder if this was a film worth watching more than once. Indeed, if it had been directed by anybody but Resnais, it may not have been.
It was in the second half, though, that the film really hit its stride. The meeting between Dan and Gaelle (who up to that point were fairly uninteresting characters) was superb, and was quite realistic and engaging. This made the conclusion so much more heart-wrenching, even though the consequences did seem a little clichéd. Also, I immediately warmed to Andre Dussollier, who is able to say so much with his facial expressions.
Possibly the drawbacks were the characters of Nicole and Charlotte. It was hard to really sympathize with the former, and I thought the latter was a little odd - it seemed like she was overacting for humorous effect, which was fine, but when it came to her making a serious point, you weren't sure how to take it exactly. The whole porn thing was a little wacky as well and, apart from creating some laughs, seemed a little contrived.
Those issues, however, did not seriously detract from the film. The dialogue was excellent, and the highlight (with the exception of the afore-mentioned meeting) was the ending. It seemed like Resnais had been waiting to get to the end of the film just so he could pull off some artiness, but there is no doubt that it worked. The scene with the snow falling in the house (partly reminiscent of Tarkovsky's Solaris) was great, as were the final moments showing every character in familiar yet distorted places, to show their loneliness and/or unhappiness. The basic final sequence has been done many times before, but the way Resnais directed it put it in a class above the rest. As anyone would tell you, endings can be crucial to a film, and this film's ending was superb.
One final comment - this was a case where I thought the English title was a lot better than the French one. 'Couers' (which I believe, from my limited knowledge of French, means 'hearts') is a little dull compared to the English title of 'Private Fears in Public Places' which, while perhaps not perfectly relevant to the film, is still an excellent title all the same.
This film is shown occasionally on IFC and is worth watching,some of
the performances are quaint and subtle, and the romantic comedy is
understated (Though I'm from the states I don't like over the top
Hollywood "romantic comedies",actually find them saccharine and
intolerable.) Needless to say,the vignettes here are a breath of fresh
air. Worth noting is the performance of Sabine Azema,as
Charlotte,Isabelle Carre as Gaelle, and Lambert Wilson as Dan.
The sets are original and in the backdrop of snow, in the city of Paris. Romantic and ironic, never trite or cloying. Worth more than one view for audiences with taste who cannot stomach yet another Hollywood serving of trite romance. Recommended.9/10.
Alan Ayckbourn's play, 'Private Fears in Public Places', is one of his quieter comedies. Various people seek love and don't find it, for ordinary, mundane, sometimes embarrassing reasons: the plot, such as it is, is driven mostly by a rather ambiguous character whose motivations are never completely explained. But Ayckbourn has not been Britain's most successful playwright for nothing; and the dialogue sparkles, line after line displaying his knack for getting to the heart of the matter with economy, humour, and a feel for real life. At times, Alan Resnais' film, which features many short scenes but very few settings, seems to be trying a little too hard to pretend that this isn't just a filmed play, but without fundamentally changing the dramatic structure: he does, however, get excellent performances from his cast, and makes the work feel very naturally French. It's a pity that the BBC versions of Ayckbourn's work are mostly unavailable (and never, it seems, repeated); but Resnais rendering is still one to be enjoyed.
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