(director/writer: Andre Delvaux; screenwriter: from the novel La confession anonyme by Suzanne Lilar; cinematographer: Charles Van Damme; editor: Albert Jurgenson; music: Frédéric Devreese; cast: Fanny Ardant (Benvenuta), Vittorio Gassman (Livio Carpi), François Fabian (Jeanne), Claire Wauthion (Inge), Mathieu Carrière(François), Philippe Geluck (Father), (Mother); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Jean-Claude Batz/Renzo Rossellini; Cinematek-PAL format; 1983-France/Belgium/Italyin Italian and French with English subtitles)

It’s the last film the great director made as magic realism.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Belgium filmmaker Andre Delvaux (“Un Soir, Un Train”/”Appointment in Bray”/”The Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short”) bases this baroque passionate love story on Suzanne Lilar’s La confession anonyme. It’s the last film the great director madeasmagic realism (blurring the lines between fiction and realty in lyrical ways).

Young filmmaker François (Mathieu Carrière) visits the recluse older author Jeanne (François Fabian) in her Ghent apartment and asks her to tell him more about her main character Benvenuta (Fanny Ardant) from a scandalous fictional love story written twenty years ago, that he wants to make as a film. At first denying that the Benvenuta character is based on herself, the novelist soon opens up and tells the earnest filmmaker about the young pianist, Benvenuta. She tells when Benvenuta was on a concert tour in Italy, sleeping with her roommate Inge (Claire Wauthion), and how she met in Milan the older married imperious magistrate Livio Carpi (Vittorio Gassman) and how boldly he took her in the ritzy Milan hotel, in a red decorated room, and how that began a long doomed affair–one that brought back her incestuous impulses for her father (Philippe Geluck).

The pic serves as a mystical study of love, comparing love to religious rituals and while being critical of Catholicism, it declares at one point that ‘the sweetest thing about love is its violence.’ The mystical message is delivered by Gassman, who tells his receptive young lover that ‘In the sexual act, I never look for anything but the soul.’

Like in all Delvaux films, there’s much to dwell on that might not at first be apparent, from its philosophical references to the neo-Platonists and the poet Rilke, and to the writers Kafka and Henry James, and also to its musical interludes that include Mozart’s “Adagio From Fantasy For Piano,” Robert Schumann’s “Fantaisiestuck Nr 1” and Brahm’s “Variations On A Theme By Paganini.” It’s a complex and moody love pic, that loses some flow because it’s too schematic, nevertheless its brilliance can’t be denied.

Benvenuta (1983)