Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 09, 2020 7:07 pm 
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Honoré's boulevard-style "Comédie de remariage"

Stephen Dalton wrote in Hollywood Reporter that this came just at the right time midway in the Cannes Festival when attendees much needed a "frothy" "bed-hopping" French farce as a "palate-cleanser." "Christophe Honore’s bittersweet comic fantasy stars Chiara Mastroianni as a highly sexed college lecturer weighing up the steep cost of loving," Dalton writes. Suppose, the film fantasizes, you could go back a few decades to your spouse in his youthful prime, would you still like him, knowing how jaded you'll get later on? A great "springboard into screwball comedy and counterfactual fantasy," says Dalton, even if Honoré gets his plot-line a bit muddled. Vincent Lacoste plays the young version of haughty oversexed prof Chiara Mastroianni's mature hubby played by Benjamin Biolay. This is a top cast. Honoré doesn't quite know how to end, says Dalton, but the final sequence, where Chiara and all her former lovers, including both the young and old version of her husband, meet at a bar and dance away the night to Barry Manilow, is a "patently dumb notion" that nonetheless delivers "a perverse kind of pleasure." It all may be too French for outside audiences, but the setup is readymade for a Hollywood remake.

What Dalton doesn't make quite clear is that this whole thing is best conceived as a night of meditation. Maria (Mastroianni) checks into room 212 in the hotel across the street in a sort of mock running away from home, and all the action of the film, the coming and going of men and boys in that room, constitutes her vivid review of her promiscuous past. This she does without announcing it to her husband Richard (Biolay), who has just learned of her most recent affairs and is mad at her, but with this sudden unexplained absence he misses her and wants her back - and she does go back and they're reunited the next day: hence this is a "comédie de remarriage," a comedy of remarriage, as the critic of Les Inrockuptibles Marilou Duponchel calls this film.

Christophe Honoré, unknown to us in the American film audience, is not only a cinema auteur of note in France but has worked in the theater, and here, more than before, he alludes to that milieu, because the atmosphere of coming and goings and references to love affairs and deceptions refers to French boulevard comedy. But it's Honoré's own rarefied version, since as mentioned this isn't farce action but a night of memories and brooding conceived as boulevard comedy.

Notably, Vincent Lacoste, who has become a surprise star (like Romain Duris) after a goofy half serious beginning - Les beaux gosses/French Kissers, R-V 2010), plays the 25-year-old version of Richard. Lacoste may have replaced Louis Garrel as Honoré's young man muse. He played the lead very well in Honoré's last film, his moving, autobiographical Sorry Angel/Plaire, aimer et courir vite (2018), one of his best (though it lacks the charm and fantasy of earlier films like Love Songs and Dans Paris). Lacoste isn't very important here - no one person is, other than Mastroianni - but this acts as a place-marker: he probably will be back.

Mastrioanni is central, and it's she who got the Un Certain Regard Best Actress prize, but Camille Cottin (of the Netflix series "Dix pour cent" aka "Call My Agent!") is also omnipresent as the older version of Irène Haffner, Richard's music teacher who seduced him as an adolescent.

Honoré, with his bittersweet musicals and his gay twists on Nouvelle Vague style, has been a gift to contemporary French cinema. His films have been slow to catch on here and I remember being entranced by the wonderful Les chansons d'amour and finding others at the screening for the Rendez-Vous of that year (2008) were totally unmoved. This film did extremely well with French critics, but seems unlikely to play well here, but we shall see. I wouldn't have expected Ozon's 2002 Eight Women to do well, but it was a hit in the States. This film is light and witty and succinct (under an hour and a half) but also has layers, and I look forward to watching it again.

One Magical Night/Chambre 212 86 mins., debuted May 2019 at Cannes, with 11 other French and international festival showings. Its ]French theatrical release was Oct. 9, 2019. The AlloCiné press rating was raves, 4.1 (82%),but spectators' rating is only 3.0.

Friday, March 6, 8:45pm (Q&A with Chiara Mastroianni)
Monday, March 9, 4:15pm


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