(director: André Téchiné; screenwriters: Olivier Assayas/Gilles Taurand; cinematographer: Caroline Champetier; editor: Martine Giordano; cast: Juliette Binoche (Alice), Alexis Loret (Martin Sauvagnac), Mathieu Amalric (Benjamin Sauvagnac), Carmen Maura (Jeanine Sauvagnac), Jean-Pierre Lorit (Frédéric Sauvagnac), Jeremy Kreikenmayer (Martin as a child), Pierre Maguelon (Victor Suavagnac), Marthe Villalonga (Lucie); Runtime: 123; USA Films; 1998-France)

The actors were all sweating their lines, which makes it seem as if they had to dig deep every time they said something.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

André Techiné (Wild Reeds/Ma Saison Préférée) has come up with another of his art-house films guaranteed to dazzle the senses, featuring Caroline Champetier’s beautiful camera work of the colorful meadows of southern France.

The film has one magical shot of a troubled child opening up the shutters in his room to a dark sky of bubbly snowflakes, which is utterly amazing how that shot tells so much about the child without saying a word.

This dysfunctional family tale is told mainly through the eyes of an emotionally disturbed bastard son, Martin (Loret). Until 10 he lived with his earthy, beautician real mother, Jeanine (Carmen Maura). He was then brought up by his real father, a well-off, philandering industrialist, Victor (Maguelon), and his stolid wife (Marthe Villalonga), and shared their home with his new families’ three sons. But he hates living with his father since he believes his father doesn’t want him.

The film will uncover the secrets in his life that causes him to have a nervous breakdown. It will show the relationship he has with his family and with his lover, Alice (Binoche), and how tortured with self-hatred he becomes trying to judge himself while finding his soul, as he is tormented about a guilt that is gnawing at him after his father dies and he runs away from home.

Love and guilt become the two obstacles in the young man’s troubled life.

The film does not necessarily go in chronological order, therefore the flashbacks that come without any particular order are meant to give weight to the story as presented at the time. The actors were all sweating their lines, which makes it seem as if they had to dig deep every time they said something.

The film kicks into high gear when the grown Martin runs out of the prison-like gates of his tyrannical father’s house, as he just pushed him down the stairs accidentally killing him. He then lives for three weeks on the run as a fugitive in the countryside where he watches a deer carcass being devoured by carrion, tries unsuccessfully to drown himself, and gets caught by a farmer stealing his eggs from a chicken coop. His father’s wife pays his fine to release him from prison. There was no dialogue in these scenes of him as a fugitive.

Martin when free, heads to the Paris apartment of his homosexual half-brother Benjamin (Amalric) and his tense violinist roommate Alice. Here he acts inarticulate, still with the wild look of someone on the run.

The pretty-boy Martin becomes sexually obsessed with the neurotic Alice, he even gets caught stalking her. But she sticks to her safe platonic relationship with the aspiring actor Benjamin, who is currently supporting himself as a store security guard. Even though she is tempted by Martin sexually, nothing romantically transpires–though she is flattered by the attention. But when he moves out and becomes a well-established male model in the fashion world, with pictures of him on advertising posters all over Paris, things begin to change. He then gives her the ultimatum that he wants her or else he won’t see her again. She says, “Take me, I’m yours if you want me.” Martin takes her to bed and the inexperienced lover makes up for his lost time as a virgin.

The pictures tell the story better than it is told through dialogue. There was a strangely felt wry humor that underscored the dead serious mood the film set. Alexis Loret, in his debut film role, gives an interesting performance of someone who is always out of place no matter where he is. But when it comes to the heavy romance, I didn’t feel it worked. Though the director might have implied it had more going for it than sexual gratification, I saw no other convincing reason for the romance. It could be asserted that maternal instincts, soul searching, and misplaced pathos on Juliette’s part were responsible for the romance, but I couldn’t see any other reason but the libido. Martin was just not a warm enough character to believe he could generate so much unconditional love.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”