5 November 2016 | Red-125
Moreau-Belmondo: this is a must-see film if you love French cinema
Moderato cantabile (1960) was shown in the U.S. with the title Seven Days . . .Seven Nights. Peter Brook directed this French film, and Marguerite Duras adapted her novel for the screen. (Note that IMDb has the film listed with its U.S. title, although the VHS uses the original French title, and lists the date of release as 1959.)
The plot of the movie is somewhat basic. A beautiful woman leads a banal life as the trophy wife of a town's leading industrialist. Her only pleasure is her interactions with her son, Pierre, who is about seven years old. (The title Moderato Cantabile comes from the son's piano teacher, who is trying to get him to understand the concept.)
Within the first few minutes of the film, a horrible scene occurs in a bar right next to the piano teacher's home. For the rest of the film, the plot keeps circling back to discussion that event. We assume something bad is going to happen, although we don't know what.
Jeanne Moreau plays the wife, Anne, and Jean Paul Belmondo plays Chauvin, someone who works in her husband's factory. They meet and discuss the event, and then we watch their relationship unfold.
This would be just another black and white French film from the 1950's, except that it stars Moreau and Belmondo. Belmondo is a formidable masculine presence, with his high cheekbones and his broken nose. Moreau is unique--certainly one of the great actors of the 20th Century.
Director Brooks knows that when he is working with Moreau he is working with an extraordinary actor, and he lets us know that he knows. In one scene, there's a single image of Moreau's face that fills the screen. That single image is on the screen for almost 30 seconds! Those large eyes and downturned mouth are a part of French and worldwide cinematic culture.
I want to make note of Didier Haudepin, who plays Moreau's son, Pierre. He's an extraordinary child actor, because he looked as if he weren't acting. He had a major role in the movie, but it appeared that he was just a normal kid who didn't like piano lessons. It's hard for an actor-- especially a child--to look as if he weren't acting. Haudepin managed it, and it's no surprise that he went on to have an outstanding career in film.
We saw this movie on VHS cassette, but it's available on DVD. It's an excellent film, and definitely worth seeking out and viewing.
P.S. We became interested in Moderato Cantabile because years ago we acquired an original movie poster of the film. We eventually donated the poster to the excellent Little Theatre in Rochester, NY. If you attend The Little, you'll see it prominently displayed. Our thought to ourselves was--you've seen the poster, now watch the movie!