WINDOW SHOPPING (aka: Golden Eighties)

(director/writer: Chantal Akerman; screenwriter: Jean Gruault/Pascal Bonitzer/Henry Bean/Leora Barish; cinematographer: Gilberto Azevedo; editors: Nadine Keseman/Francine Sandberg; music: Marc Hérouet; cast: Delphine Seyrig (Jeanne Schwartz), Fannie Cottencon (Lili), Charles Denner (M. Schwartz), Nicolas Tronc (Robert Schwartz), Lio (Mado), Myriam Boyer (Sylvie), John Berry (Eli Jackson), Jean-Francois Balmer (M. Jean), Pascale Salkin (Pascale); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Martine Marignac; World Artists; 1986-Belgium/Switzerland/France-in French with English subtitles)

“Peppy but never quite explodes into greatness.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Belgian-born but Paris based Chantal Akerman (“Toute Une Nuit”/”News from Home”/”Les Rendez-Vous D’Anna”) directs this fun-loving idiosyncratic piece. It’s a pastel Technicolor musical, ala Jacques Demy, that tells an animated pedestrian love story set in a mall during the time of a recession. It’s peppy but never quite explodes into greatness. In the end, this fluffy romantic omelet laced with some acerbic French asides leaves us with these words of wisdom: “love is like a dress — it might look good on the rack, but not on you.” Writers Jean Gruault, Pascal Bonitzer, Henry Bean, and Leora Barish throw in multiple mini-plots that at times make it look like a French pop culture kitsch opera for speed freaks.

It follows the story of three next-door store owners in the busy Parisian shopping mall called “Toison d’Or.” Sylvie (Myriam Boyer) owns a refreshment stand and periodically sings to us from the letters her optimistic boyfriend sends her from Canada, where he’s trying to make his fortune. The letters grow increasingly less optimistic. The bouncy flirtatious party girl Lili (Fannie Cottencon) owns a hair salon given her by her married middle-aged gangster lover Mr. Jean (Jean-Francois Balmer), whom she coyly manipulates to get gifts and makes his heart flutter at just looking at her. The ready-to-wear boutique store owning Schwartz family consists of the always business-minded Mr. Schwartz (Charles Denner), the always nervously posed with a happy face mother Jeanne Schwartz (Delphine Seyrig), and their fickle, creepy, spoiled, macho son Robert (Nicolas Tronc). He pines after Lili, but is madly loved by Lili’s hairdresser Mado (Lio) in spite of his indifference. To complicate things further, the American Eli Jackson (John Berry) visits Paris. Some thirty years ago he was one of the GI’s who liberated a concentration camp and met a frail Polish girl he fell in love with. But she chose not to marry him and just disappeared from his life. That girl was Jeanne, and Eli chases after her for most of the pic telling her he remained a bachelor because he couldn’t forget her.

There are two lively Greek choruses: one of four men (OlivierAchard, Laurent Allaire, Dominique Comagnon and Simon Reggiani) and the other of eight women, who act to poke fun at the lovers, spread gossip and belittle their melodramatic trials. The scene keeps breathlessly changing among the different set of lovers. Robert goes from screwing Lili on the floor of his boutique to getting engaged to Mado on the rebound after being rejected by Lili; Jeanne goes from kissing Eli, to running away from him; Mr. Jean goes from loving Lili more than his wife, to going back to his wife and getting rid of the salon by selling the space so Mr. Schwartz can expand his boutique.

Most things about it are good. The score is moving, the acting is superb, the characters are mostly likable and its energy is infectious. Definitely worth seeing, even if it can’t clearly get at what it was driving at.

Golden Eighties Poster