Mélo (1986)


(director/writer: Alain Resnais; screenwriter: from the play by Henri Bernstein; cinematographer: Charlie Van Damme; editor: Albert Jurgenson; music: M. Philippe-Gérard; cast: Sabine Azéma (Romaine Belcroix), Fanny Ardant (Christiane Levesque), Pierre Arditi (Pierre Belcroix), André Dussollier (Marcel Blanc), Jacques Dacqmine (Dr. Remy), Hubert Gignoux (Le Prêtre), Catherine Arditi (Yvonne); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Marin Karmitz; Artificial Eye; 1986-France-in French with English subtitles)

“It dishes out dollops of pain from among the Brahms’ sonatas, and melodramatics that were dated long ago.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Mélo is short for melodrama. It’s a conventional film that differs from the director Alain Resnais’ (“Hiroshima, Mon Amour”/”Stavisky”/”Providence”) usual experimental nonlinear structured films. Resnais writes and directs this dreary theatrical ensemble piece that’s set behind a proscenium arch and has a classical music background. It’s a chatty work that lacks the director’s usual stylish flourishes (though superbly photographed). The old-fashioned stodgy plot has excellent nuanced performances from the three leads. It’s taken from the 1929 play by Henri Bernstein and is filled with period art deco sets. It was filmed previously in England in 1936 as Dreaming Lips and in 1932 in Germany, where it was titled Der Träumende Mund. Both times it starred Elisabeth Bergner. In 1953, another German version of Der Träumende Mund featured Maria Schell in the lead.

Marcel Blanc (André Dussollier) is an accomplished soloist violinist of international fame, with a rep as a womanizer. Marcel has a dinner-date with his old friend from their days at the music conservatory, Pierre Belcroix (Pierre Arditi), who is now a contented second-rate orchestra musician who lives in a suburban cottage, in Montrouge just outside Paris, and falls in love with his attractive pianist wife Romaine (Sabine Azéma) after she’s captivated over hearing him tell his life story. She chases after the wealthy, suave and talented violinist and they have a passionate affair, whereby it moves from casual to one of earnestness. When Marcel goes on a tour, the tormented woman commits suicide when her plans to poison her good-natured husband are interrupted by a nosy doctor. The last act has Pierre calling on Marcel and the two dance around the death of Romaine, with a depressed Pierre reaching out to somehow forgive his friend who will still not admit he cheated with his best friend’s wife. Pierre’s purpose of the meeting after many years of not seeing his friend is to retain his wife’s good name, whom he still loves despite later learning of her disloyalty, as he will not allow for any mention of the illicit affair.

It’s an elegant and well-crafted ”boulevard drama” that was terribly monotonous and static as it wrestled with broad ideas of love, honesty and drama. It never poured out enough juice for me to drink from its cup without still feeling thirsty. It dishes out dollops of pain from among the Brahms’ sonatas, and melodramatics that were dated long ago. Fanny Ardant has a small part as Romaine’s cousin Christiane who ends up marrying Marcel, as she manages to show her acting chops despite the unimportance of her role.