Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 18, 2005 9:04 pm 
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Flawed perfection

A quiet and flawed little early Seventies "classic" by Sautet about a love triangle. Why quiet, despite the violence and threat of destruction emanating from Yves Montand's character (César), the very successful and impulsive scrap metal dealer? Because David, his cartoonist/illustrator rival (Sami Frey), is so calm, and because Rosalie (a too-perfect Romy Schneider) is so reserved. And flawed -- because the story and the characters ultimately go nowhere. Why "classic" (in quotation marks, however)? Because of the excellent casting, the sure touch, and the polished look. This should be seen in conjunction with Sautet's more complex 1974 Vincent, François, Paul... et les autres, also featuring Yves Montand in the central male role.

As the film begins, César and Rosalie are living together. David reappears after a stay in America. It turns out David has always loved Rosalie, but he let her marry somebody else (an artist from whom she's for some time been divorced). When David reappears at a wedding, Rosalie quietly goes off and spends time with him. César politely but very firmly meets David at a café and tells him to back off. He ignores this, and César wrecks his studio. Rosalie takes David to César's offices, gives him the combination to the safe so he can steal a million francs in compensation for the studio damage -- and runs away to live with him and work in a café in another town. People are able to act with gross impulsivity in this movie -- and still remain pals with the victims of their acts. César tracks the pair down and plays his trump card: he's bought the big seaside house where Rosalie was so happy as a child. She now goes off to live there with him. But later César goes to David again, with a polite proposal. . .

In actual screen time, the male-to-male relationship is more fully represented -- and hence develops more -- than the rapports between Rosalie and either of the two men. It goes from confrontation, to truce, to friendship, to intense camaraderie. The ménage è trois doesn't work for Rosalie, and she goes off by herself. As philosophical voiceovers (by Michel Piccoli) come and go, you expect something desperate and violent to happen. Perhaps César will off David; or both men will die violently at sea or on the road? But instead, in the complete absence of Rosalie, César and David remain bachelors and become each other's best friends and most constant companions. Maybe they should get married to each other? But the trouble is, they aren't gay, and this was before gay marriage anyway.

Frey is perfectly handsome and charming in the hirsute style of the Seventies; Schneider is perfectly elegant and beautiful in the cold style of Yves Saint Laurent; Montand is as great a combination of charming and macho and emotional and "cool" as anybody in the movies has ever been. You understand why the other two both love him. He's a little older, but thank God for that. He's tall and slim and he has all his hair and he's got that grin and that twinkle in the eyes, and when he brandishes a big cigar, it looks dashing and you forget that it stinks.

But there's a flaw in the piece, which is Rosalie. She has been tremendously admired by viewers and the director himself, who spoke of Romy Schneider as representing "all women" (though he was originally going to cast Deneuve). But Schneider really hasn't much to do other than be pleasant and look lovely and move around from scene to scene. (In view of the way her part is written, the icy Deneuve might have been more convincing -- and more haunting.) Rosalie expresses herself by running off; or by being absent when she's with César and can't get David out of her mind. David is appealing in an enigmatic kind of way. Like Rosalie, he bends cooperatively at times, but holds back a part of himself always. All the passion is César's. This is like Jules et Jim with a lovely mannequin where Jeanne Moreau's character was (unfortunately "all women" apparently is not a single, real, live woman). A positive addition, typical of Sautet's work, is that the two men's professional work is a strong element in the story.

The writer-director team is to be congratulated on not opting for a violent resolution. But they have found no resolution, and their surprise finale is only a repetition. Despite the charisma of the three principals, a movie that repeats and goes nowhere, no matter how appealing, can't be called a masterpiece. César et Rosalie is an idea that is toyed with as a kitten toys with a ball of wool, and then abandoned, left in a harmless tangle. If these people weren't so attractive, they'd seem aimless and desperate.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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