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The Russian Bride (2001)
"The Russian Bride" is an interesting film with riveting performances by the principals, namely, Lia Williams, Sheila Hancock and Douglas Hodge. Hancock, as the crazed and domineering mother of the mail-order bride's hapless husband, is outstanding. The story is good, too. Of course it ought to be good because it is a scene-by-scene, uncredited, ripoff of Emile Zola's novel, "Therese Raquin," which has been filmed at least a half-dozen times with due credit to the author. The characters' names, the era and locale are changed in "The Russian Bride," but otherwise it's the same. I can't believe some guy is credited as "writer." I gave this film 3 stars; I would have given it 7 stars if it had just credited the actual writer.
Love, etc. (1996)
Good until the end
I was impressed by the performances of Charlotte Gainsbourg and Yvan Attal (who co-habit in real life) in the 2001 film "My Wife Is an Actress" and so I was pleased to find this earlier film, "Love, etc." they did together in 1996. It is a moving, evocative story marked by good acting but unfortunately marred by a terrible ending that is contrived, too pat and unbelievable.
Benoit (Attal) and Pierre (Charles Berling) are friends since grade school. Pierre is the dominant one of the pair -- handsome, outgoing, good with girls -- and the introverted Benoit is the sidekick. But then the tables are turned. Pierre gets in trouble at work and loses his job. Benoit, responding to a personals ad, finds true love in Marie (Gainsbourg), an equally shy and insecure wallflower, and soon they marry. Suddenly Benoit is the friend whose life is going well.
Pierre, as if he can't stand Benoit's happiness, decides that he loves Marie and must have her. He launches an obsessive campaign to woo her. She protests but by not taking steps to stop it (such as telling her husband about it) she invites further attention. Inevitably, and unbelievably, she falls for this best friend/stalker. Even Benoit seems to be aware of what's happening, but unable to articulate his feelings to Marie or Pierre he seems helpless to prevent it, and resigned to his fate. The scene in which Benoit finally confronts Marie and Pierre is powerful. Gainsbourg, an immensely appealing actress if not a classic beauty, conveys great emotion without uttering a word.
(POSSIBLE SPOILER) Up to that point it is a very good movie. Then it flashes forward to New Year's Day, 2000, and the beach where the trio, during earlier, happier, times promised to meet and celebrate the turn of the century. Marie has dumped poor Benoit and, while still technically married to him, taken up with Pierre. They engage in mundane chitchat. It appears that they are no longer close but still friendly. She makes a little speech about being with the only two men she ever loved. What baloney! She can't have it both ways. Marie and Pierre, wife and best friend, betrayed Benoit. She chose Pierre over her husband. She and Pierre acted in ways to humiliate Benoit. The idea that he would remain civil, let alone friendly, with the treacherous pair stretches credulity too far. And that's where the movie leaves it -- nowhere. As nicely done as the movie is to that point it leaves the viewer feeling empty, frustrated and cheated, much as Benoit must have felt.
Just Married (2003)
Why are they married?
Tom (Ashton Kutcher), a working-class boy, and Sarah (Brittany Murphy), a wealthy girl, meet, fall in love, move in together and then get married, all in very short order and against her family's wishes. Their honeymoon promptly turns into a nightmare of mishaps (most of them, unfortunately, not funny) and misunderstandings. Then it degenerates into an escalating contest of pranks aimed at each other -- kind of like Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in the 1989 dark comedy "War of the Roses" but dumber and more juvenile. Finally they've had enough and return from their Venetian honeymoon early, and separate.
This movie raises at least one question: Why in the world would Tom want to be married to Sarah? He is a good-natured bumbler and most of the missteps he makes are unintentional or harmless. She, on the other hand, is one cruel lady. Among other things, she withholds sex for virtually their entire honeymoon and she takes off for a day and most of a night with an ex-lover who happens to show up at their honeymoon hotel in Venice. Worse, she falsely reports to a Customs official that Tom is carrying hashish in his anus, causing him to be subjected to a body-cavity search. Then she laughs at him when he limps in pain onto the airplane. Enough said.
Ma femme est une actrice (2001)
Watchable. But likeable?
CAUTION: SPOILERS! It ain't paranoia if it's really happening.
In "My Wife Is an Actress" beleaguered French sportswriter Yvan (played by Yvan Attal, who also wrote and directed)is overcome by jealous worries that his beautiful movie star/wife Charlotte (played by Attal's real-life wife, Charlotte Gainsbourg) might be unfaithful. Yvan fears that Charlotte, who's left their Paris home to film a movie in London, might succumb to the advances of her sexy and disreputable leading man. Yvan's fears, stoked by, among other things, a conversation with a cloddish acquaintance, drive the action in this romantic comedy, which isn't always that comedic.
(SPOILER) Several reviewers have labeled Yvan's worries as paranoid. But it ain't paranoia if it's really happening. Turns out Yvan was right to worry. Charlotte falls rather readily for her co-star (Terence Stamp), whose moves are subtle and low-pressure. She has an excuse--Yvan planted the thought in her head with his ranting on the subject and his frequent unannounced trips to London to check up on her. Of course she's obligated to follow her little crush through all the way and sleep with the guy, all the while reassuring her husband that she is not.
Bear in mind that her fling is with a pasty, paunchy hack twice her age, as played delightfully by Stamp. You've got to figure a Russell Crowe-like young stud would have her on her back in about 10 seconds.
Following her assignation, Charlotte suffers apparent pangs of guilt and boards the Chunnel train for Paris and Yvan. After some innocent misunderstanding they get back together and she continues to tell Yvan that she has not slept with her co-star. Yvan knows she's lying: "You know something? You're a great actress," he says.
This movie is watchable and enjoyable, thanks to the attractiveness of its stars and Stamp's old-pro performance. But it is not particularly likeable, as romantic comedies are supposed to be. Ultimately it is a story about a marriage that is doomed to failure: he's obsessively jealous and she's unfaithful and a liar. Not a good combination. Worse, (SPOILER) the vehicle Charlotte and Yvan choose to cement their relationship--having a baby--is almost guaranteed to hurt, not help, a shaky marriage.
Charlotte is the film's most interesting character. She is not particularly likeable and is made palatable only by the immense appeal of the actress, Ms. Gainsbourg. In this the film is similar to another French movie about adultery, "Un Pointe Entre Deux Rives," or "The Bridge," in which the grace and beauty of the Audrey Hepburn-like Carole Bouquet make a rather unlikeable character somewhat more sympathetic than she should be.
Much has been made of the fact that the characters' names are the same as Attal's and Gainsbourg's real-lfe names. Is "My Wife Is an Actress" autobiographical? I hope not, for both their sakes.