1 February 2007 | MaxBorg89
A very funny and insightful reflection on relationships and solitude
Coeurs, the latest achievement of French master Alain Resnais, stands out as one of the finest European productions of 2006, a fact confirmed by the Silver Lion it was awarded in Venice. While the critics and audience at the festival were more anxious to see other films, like The Black Dahlia or INLAND EMPIRE, this small, intimate, bittersweet character study quietly moved towards well deserved recognition, proving that the great New Wave director had lost none of his special touch.
Like one of his best known films, Smoking/No Smoking, Coeurs is based on a play by Alan Ayckbourn. But whereas Smoking/No Smoking retained its untarnished Englishness, Resnais makes it pretty clear that he's keeping his new work as distant as possible from its literary source: the title is completely different (as the French filmmaker thought Private Fears in Public Places was misleading in regards to the subject), and the story is set in Paris, with the inevitable (and, I might add, quite brilliant) changes in the dialogue that this requires.
The film focuses on six people struggling to achieve or maintain meaningful relationships. There's the aging Thierry (André Dussollier, funny and heartbreaking at the same time) who has to fight his feelings for his younger assistant (Sabine Azéma). There's his sister Gaelle (Isabelle Carré), who goes out on blind dates every night and always comes back hugely disappointed. There's Nicole (Laura Morante), a frustrated woman who's trying to find a nice apartment whilst dealing with her unemployed and increasingly detached boyfriend, Dan (Lambert Wilson). And there's Lionel (Pierre Arditi, a laconic revelation), a lonely bartender who has to take care of his father, the rude, sex-obsessed Arthur (Claude Rich, heard but not seen). Over the course of four days, these characters will meet and affect each others'lives in unexpected, amusing, but also very touching ways.
With this masterwork, Resnais proves himself a true auteur, telling us an apparently simple tale of love and longing with a direct, honest approach, from the hilarious beginning to the moving, open conclusion. In adapting Ayckbourn's stage work, he manages the impossible, which is to make the movie look theatrical but not overly bizarre, using subtle, unpretentious tricks: the speaking parts belong solely to the six leading actors (plus Rich's priceless vocal cameo), every single scene takes place indoors (and the locations are always the same), and, most importantly, sequences are linked by a metaphorical snowfall, which gives the film a poetic, almost magical feel.
Those who thought Closer could have benefited from less swearing and more sympathy for its characters should watch Coeurs. It may not exactly end on a happy note, but at least it doesn't risk sliding into misanthropy. Beneath the apparent pessimism, there's a heart beating. The heart of an experienced director who hasn't stopped to amaze us.