February 7, 2010By Heidi EllisonArchive

A Long, Snowy Ride to Nowhere

Dan (Lambert Wilson) and Gaëlle (Isabelle Carré) meet through an Internet dating site.

Alain Resnais’ new film, Cœurs, based on Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s play Private Fears in Public Places, is a big, baggy mess: stagy, unbelievable, silly and overlong.

Cœurs uses the currently popular device of introducing a number of characters whose paths eventually interconnect. Thierry (André Dussollier), a real-estate agent, is trying to find an apartment for Nicole (Laura Morante) and her boyfriend Dan (Lambert Wilson), an unemployed ex-military man who has been discharged from the army for some never-explained reason. Thierry’s coworker, Charlotte (Sabine Azéma), brings him video cassettes of a religious TV program, with a little something extra added at the end that excites and puzzles Thierry. Gaëlle (Isabelle Carré), Thierry’s younger (by about 35 or 40 years, by the looks of it) sister, keeps making dates through the personal ads with guys who never show up. Finally, one does: Dan. He has just been thrown out by Nicole, who is fed up with him hanging out all day in a bar, where he confesses his troubles to the bartender, Lionel (Pierre Arditi). Lionel has his own problems, including a bedridden elderly father with a violent temper. He hires a temporary nighttime caretaker, who turns out to be none other than Charlotte.

That completes the circle, but this member of the audience felt left out in the cold after a long ride to nowhere.

The glue holding this loose-jointed two-hour film together is snow: It snows heavily in every scene, and the character’s shoulders and hair are always liberally sprinkled with the white stuff, which never melts, even when they hang out indoors for long periods of time.

It is bizarre to see so much snow in Paris, where it rarely falls and melts quickly. And why do the characters never appear to be cold in this winter wonderland? Those are minor quibbles, however; the snow is probably just part of Resnais’ inept use of theatrical devices. But by using snow as a metaphor for death, he inevitably invites comparison with James Joyce’s story “The Dead” (beautifully filmed by John Huston in 1987), in which it is used subtly and poetically. Cœurs just can’t stand up to that comparison.

While Ayckbourn has described his play as cinematic, Resnais has tried to turn it into a filmed play, with some scenes in apartments shot from above, for example, showing the tops of fake walls, and, at the end, a couple of the characters posed alone in a spotlight (yes, folks, we’re all alone in the end). Such devices don’t work here, however, because they are used only halfheartedly (why shoot from above in two apartment-visiting scenes and not in the other one?), creating a confusing mix of real and unreal. In his film Dogville, Lars von Trier went all the way with this concept, convincingly using lines drawn on a floor to define houses in a village.

The actors seem ill at ease throughout Cœurs and indulge in some painful-to-watch overacting, especially Azéma and Morante. One gets the feeling that Resnais was too busy with his stagy effects to properly direct the actors and give the film – overburdened as it is with unnecessarily dragged-out scenes – the fast pace its attempts at comedy might have benefited from.

The mystery is why Cœurs won Resnais the Silver Lion award for Best Director at this year’s Venice Film Festival and why the French press loved the film so much, calling it a “magnificent masterpiece,” a “tour de force,” “masterly,” “the most moving Resnais in 20 years,” and so on. Perhaps the director’s age (84) and past successes predisposed the critics to be kind to this still-living hero of French cinema of the 1950s and ’60s, director of Night and Fog, Hiroshima Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad?

Heidi Ellison

© 2006 Paris Update

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