Director: Alain Resnais
Writer: Jean-Michel Ribes
Cinematographer: Éric Gautier
Producer: Bruno Pésery
by Jon Cvack
I catch a lot of heat when I say that I think Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959) and Last Year at Marienbad (1961) are two extremely overrated movies. I’ve seen Hiroshima twice now, possibly three times, and it doesn’t get any more enjoyable (or less low). And although I’m bored by many of Buñuel films, Marienbad was like watching paint dry, epitomizing the B&W foreign art house stereotype (as 500 Days of Summer does a great job of satirizing). Though in saying that I think Night and Fog (1956) is phenomenal, and one of the most haunting documentaries I’ve ever seen. While I haven’t even come close to working my way through his filmography, I probably won’t as most of his films are rated at around three stars. Suffice it to say I wasn’t exactly thrilled when I realized who made this film. I was expecting an eccentric experimental story all taking place at a dinner party. Instead I discovered a wonderful and relatively light hearted multi-narrative, straight from the period when movies like Magnolia (1999), 21 Grams (2003), and Crash (2004) were running strong.
The film follows six characters, involving a secretary Charlotte (Sabine Azema) and her boss Therrly (André Dussollier) who work at a real estate office, showing apartments to a middle aged engaged and beautiful couple Nicole (Laura Morante) and Dan (Lambert Wilson). Dan’s out of work, spending most of his time at the bar where he talks to bartender Lionel (Pierre Arditi). Meanwhile, during the night Charlotte takes care of Lionel’s bedridden and foul mouthed father.
Charlotte is also a Christian, trying her best to honor its tenants. At the real estate office, she lends Thierry a VHS tape she recorded of a music program. However, when Therrly puts it on, after his daughter Gaelle (Isabelle Carre) leaves, the tape suddenly cuts to a neck down homemade strip show. Suspecting that Charlotte was giving him a message, he then makes a move on her, realizing that Charlotte had no clue about the porn section.
Dan and Nicole are struggling to find an apartment, with Dan demanding that it have two bedrooms and a study. Nicole doesn’t see the point, as Dan doesn’t do anything requiring study, let alone have a job to pay for such a large apartment. Their relationship quickly disintegrates in one of the best scenes of the film, as Dan comes home wasted once again, to find Nicole equally tanked, ready to call it quits. Dan goes on to meet Nicole, and for awhile we’re left wondering if he simply wants another conquest, or another person to take care of him. Nicole then later gets mad when she discovers Thierry watching the porn tape, and so all these characters lives connect.
Looking at the film on IMDb I see that the original titles was “Coeurs”, which translates to “Hearts.” It was only after I read Philip French’s review on Wikipedia that I realized how sad the movie kind of is - “All of them are in search of love and companionship. They're deeply lonely, though none is a natural loner, and their individual backgrounds, and in some cases the nature of their sexuality, are only hinted at.” The saddest couple is obviously Dan and Nicole, especially as we piece together their relationship. Dan was a former soldier, struggling in many ways with a return to civilian life, refusing to work and drinking himself stupid every night, though clearly, once upon a time, the two were happy, with Nicole hoping for its return, and Dan slowly learning that it’s far too late.
Other characters like Thierry and Charlotte demonstrate varying degrees of loneliness, with Thierry finding solace in his daughter, and Charlotte finding insight from Lionel. Neither is as strong as Nicole and Dan, and while they were fun to watch, it at times felt like it just didn’t go as far as you’d hope. While the lighthearted vibe was perfect for most of the material, it seemed to prevent more somber moments from really coming across. Perhaps it was a case of low expectations leading to a great time, but I really enjoyed seeing Resnais’ take on the multi-narrative format, providing us with fascinating characters, and some photography that makes the BluRay worth seeking.
BELOW: Resnais didn't make the cleanest jump to color, but there's still a couple cinematic moments
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