Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Comment je me suis disputé... ("ma vie sexuelle")

1996, France, directed by Arnaud Desplechin

Arnaud Desplechin's second feature is a crackling comedy of Parisian manners that also casts itself as a generational anatomy. In that, its most obvious precursor (in both length and breadth) is Jean Eustache's 1973 film La Maman et la putain. It's no particular slur on Desplechin to say that he doesn't quite reach the heights of the earlier film; he's still an exceptionally talented filmmaker, with an especially good ear for dialogue.

In contrast to some of - to give just one French example - Eric Rohmer's films, the many lengthy dialogue sequences here hold up under their own weight; Desplechin's characters are a credibly garrulous lot, interacting with one another rather than trading unwieldy speeches. The real reference point, though, is literary: the film unfolds like a good novel, revealing the characters' foibles and their complex interactions at an unhurried pace, shot through with the director's sometimes oddball sense of humour (as well as some extremely witty lines, many of them handed to his own brother, who appears as a budding priest). The film is also a coming-out party for a whole generation of young actors who were hitting their collective stride in the mid-1990's, and many of whom were already firmly established as members of the Desplechin repertory company. Mathieu Amalric, as the lead, Paul Dedalus (a name with obviously literary forebears), has probably never done better work, while actresses Emmanuelle Devos, Jeanne Balibar and Marianne Denicourt give notice of what is to come.


Matt Riviera said...

Only my favourite French film ever! Definitely a work that's had a huge impact on French cinema in the 90's, not to mention my personal appreciation of French cinema in general. Essential viewing.

Gareth said...

The cast is what gets me, time after time. The quality of acting talent is just extraordinary.

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