Monday, January 09, 2012


1981, France, directed by Bertrand Blier

The idea of a tasteful film featuring an affair between an adolescent girl and an older man may well be a contradiction in terms, but Bertrand Blier nonetheless gives it a damn good try. He tones down the more obvious, albeit often very funny, provocations of his 1970s films in favor of cool, contemplative camerawork to observe his central couple; when not at rest the camera seems to move in the most delicate of pans and pivots, serenely taking everything in.

The film opens on a high, with Patrick Dewaere -- whose tragically early death the following year is surely one of French cinema's genuinely great losses -- seated at a piano in an upscale restaurant, narrating the story of his life. Although Dewaere addresses the viewer directly, calling attention to the sequence's artificiality, Blier handles the scene so gracefully, accompanied by his usual terrific dialogue, that seems an entirely natural way to begin the tale. The theatricality is reinforced in much of the rest of the film, with Blier moving the camera precisely around the homes that Blier shares with his step-daughter, often framing the action as though it were occurring onstage; indeed, the treatment is so careful that it almost requires a provocative storyline to ensure that things don't become entirely sterile.

The film is almost the oddity in Blier's filmography, for in almost all of his other films he's never bound by restrictions of good taste, particularly not in terms of the depiction of women; there's an uncharacteristic delicacy of language for a writer who otherwise takes such relish in the obscene possibilities of his dialogue. Of course, he lets Dewaere's conflicted, depressive character almost completely off the hook by making the step-daughter the initiator of the affair; the idea that women are the root of all of life's problems most obviously reveals the link to the rest of the Blier oeuvre.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States