Over his 30-year career, Andre Techine has employed France's finest actors - Jeanne Moreau, Isabelle Adjani, Isabelle Huppert, Daniel Auteuil, Philippe Noiret, Gerard Depardieu. But he also has an eye for new talent. In Alice et Martin, he casts Juliette Binoche as Alice, and the unknown Alexis Loret as Martin. Although the film is notable thanks to Binoche, Techine's encouragement of Loret is to be admired.
Martin is the illegitimate son of a wealthy factory owner. During an argument, Martin pushes his father down the stairs, killing him. Martin flees to Paris where he meets Alice, a violinist. After some time, they fall in love, but it is only when Alice becomes pregnant with his child that Martin's guilt concerning his father's death emerges, with dreadful, consuming daring.
Techine's film is calm and responsive, but too circuitous. He deploys flashback in a wholly confusing way (at one point, I thought the projectionist had put the wrong reel on, so seemingly random was the scene suddenly stuck in front of us) and, like so many directors, he is over-fond of watching Binoche smoke, Binoche take a walk, Binoche thinking through the window, Binoche smelling and hearing and tasting and touching. But who can blame him, who can blame them all? Juliette Binoche is the most beautiful actress in the world.
It might be an apocryphal story, but I read somewhere that Richard Curtis wrote Notting Hill with Binoche in mind. He feared casting her because if he met her he would certainly fall in love with her, and considering he was already in love with his partner, decided Julia Roberts was a wiser bet. Foolish man.
Binoche has a completely original face. Her dark eyes and sharp nostrils always make me think of a fox-cub, and yet there is something so urban about Binoche. Perhaps it is her incurable paleness. Or the way she wades through the city, altogether tranquil, as though she were happily a part of its hardness, its tough steps, its shuttling metal. And yet Binoche is always working this God-given quality. Her famous passivity is not an expression of laziness or emptiness. It is quite the opposite. Binoche strives to convey the unbroken spirit of each of her characters. She interferes all the time, with a tellingly short blink, a hand behind the ear, a shoulder clasped to her neck. And yet she retains her shell. There is simply nobody else like her. Both she and Loret are terrific here - Loret tight and desperate, as though he were sick of his own ghost.
After a compelling start, the film goes on and on, rattling away like a game of backgammon played over a long weekend. It has the emotional impact of a bleak excursion to the Passport Office - after a while everything gets on your nerves. As a study of how guilt can impact miserably on reason, it is only occasionally affecting, but see it for its stars. They are brilliant and refreshing.
Anywhere But Here features Susan Sarandon as an eccentric mother and Natalie Portman as her calmer daughter. Sarandon ups sticks and moves from nowhere-America to Los Angeles in a gold Mercedes. Portman is unimpressed, missing her family and friends and fearing life alone in a shoddy apartment with barmy Mum. These days it's a kind of treason to say anything negative about Sarandon. No need - she is familiarly sincere here, familiarly tough. And Portman ("the new Audrey Hepburn") hasn't an ounce of froth in her. She might become a serious actress. Director Wayne Wang shows us middle- grotty Beverley Hills, which is a rare sight. He gets the carpets right: brown swirls, hints of shagpile, impossible to hoover. But you know nothing really bad is going to happen to this pair. Not in a Wang film. At worst, Sarandon has a one-night-stand with a creepy orthodontist. It's a slick movie, but it will struggle to find an audience.
The Clandestine Marriage had a troubled shoot. After its funding collapsed, its stars Joan Collins and Nigel Hawthorne stepped in with the cash, and there is a definite Blitz atmosphere throughout. The 1776 play is too late by a century to be described as Restoration Comedy, but it co-opts all the concerns of those dramas: masks behind masks, hypocrites versus sensualists, and so on. It centres around the intended uniting of the Sterling and Ogleby families through marriage, and on the screen feels horribly lost and lunatic. On the plus side there is Hawthorne. But Joan Collins's performance as a grasping aunt is barking. Semi-intelligible in about 15 different accents, she finally settles for German-meets-posh- meets-Manuel-in-Fawlty-Towers; "What ees wrong with this familaaaa?"
In Happy, Texas Jeremy Northam and Steve Zahn play escaped convicts forced to pose as homosexual beauty pageant experts. After a witty intro, the film aims too squarely at the gluey American heart. In its best moments, it's like Some Like it Hot. Northam comes home late after a night out with the local sheriff and informs Zahn, "We're dating!" It is mindful of the moment in Wilder's comedy when Jack Lemmon is forced to chant "I'm a boy! I'm a boy! Oh boy am I a boy!" after telling Tony Curtis that he's planning a Niagara Falls honeymoon with ageing playboy Osgood.
Briefly to Guest House Paradiso,which has Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmonson harassing the guests in their turgid hotel. Back in Edinburgh in 1982, Ben Elton introduced Rik Mayall as "the funniest man in the world". That was then. With the fart-bum-willy-puke Guest House Paradiso, Mayall, encouraged by his sidekick Edmonson, has completed his decline.
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