A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Lovers (Louis Malle, 1958)

Jeanne Moreau and Jean-Marc Bory in The Lovers
Jeanne Tournier: Jeanne Moreau
Bernard Dubois-Lambert: Jean-Marc Bory
Henri Tournier: Alain Cuny
Maggy Thiebaud-Leroy: Judith Magre
Raoul Florès: José Luis de Villalonga
Coudray: Gaston Modot

Director: Louis Malle
Screenplay: Louise de Vilmorin
Based on a novel by Dominique Vivant
Cinematography: Henri Decaë

Anna Karenina without the train. That's one way of looking at Louis Malle's once-scandalous but now somewhat tepid The Lovers. That seems to be the way the German censors saw it: a story about a woman who abandons not only her husband but also her child, and seemingly gets away with it. In the German release, the scenes involving Jeanne Tournier's daughter were cut, as if the idea of a mother leaving so adorable a child was too horrible for audiences to contemplate. In the United States, of course, it was the depiction of sex -- not "cutting away to the window" as Malle once described the traditional approach to sex scenes -- that caused the censors to draw their knives. The result was the Supreme Court decision that The Lovers didn't fit Justice Potter Stewart's famous definition of pornography: "I know it when I see it." He didn't, and it isn't: What we see in the scene are a briefly flashed nipple and the look on Jeanne's face as Bernard brings her to orgasm. Even the fact that she is being pleasured orally by him is only implied by his absence in the frame. The Lovers is more satiric than erotic, its targets the stale marriages and pro forma affairs of an haute bourgeoisie obsessed with hairstyles and polo games. Malle attempts to contrast the sterile dalliances of the idle rich with the more spontaneous relationship between Jeanne and Bernard, a casually dressed archaeologist who drives a clunky tin-can Citroën, but the film gets a little too formulaic, especially in the lushly romantic moonlight stroll and boat ride that serves as foreplay to the consummation of their affair. He switches back to irony at the end: Jeanne and Bernard escape together under the astonished gaze of her husband and her other lover, but we sense their uncertainty about whether it will work, anticipating the way Mike Nichols tempered romance with reality by holding the camera just a little bit too long on Benjamin and Elaine after they escape from the church in The Graduate (1967). Maybe we don't see the train but we hear it approaching.

Watched on Turner Classic Movies 

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