WOMAN NEXT DOOR, THE (La Femme d’a cote)


(director/writer: François Truffaut; screenwriters: Suzanne Schiffman/Jean Aurel; cinematographer: William Lubtchansky; editor: Martine Barraqué; music: Georges Delerue; cast: Gérard Depardieu (Bernard Coudray), Fanny Ardant (Mathilde Bauchard), Henri Garcin (Philippe Bauchard), Michèle Baumgartner (Arlette Coudray), Véronique Silver (Mme. Jouve, Narrator), Roger Van Hool (Roland Duguet), Olivier Becquaert (Thomas); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: R; producer: François Truffaut; Wellspring; 1981-France-in French with English subtitles)

“Intended as a sophisticated study about the travails of obsessive love among the bourgeois professionals.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A joyless and unconvincing tale of amour fou that’s set in a provincial town near Grenoble, where the social life revolves round the tennis club. Happily married marine engineer instructor Bernard Coudray (Gérard Depardieu) lives there comfortably in a neat suburban cottage with his wife Arlette (Michèle Baumgartner) and cute child Thomas (Olivier Becquaert). The new neighbors in the house next door are the newlyweds Mathilde Bauchard (Fanny Ardant, Truffaut’s future wife) and her older air traffic controller husband Philippe (Henri Garcin). Coincidentally Mathilde is Bernard’s old flame from their younger days, whose self-destructive affair ended without being reconciled. The two keep that past affair a secret from their spouses. Soon the sparks fly again and that rekindles an affair that takes place in hotel room assignations and will result in tragic consequences.

The perverse fatal attraction psychological drama by director and cowriter François Truffaut (“The 400 Blows”/”The Soft Skin”/”Confidentially Yours”), his penultimate film, was intended as a sophisticated study about the travails of obsessive love among the bourgeois professionals, ala Chabrol, but it just sourly lays there like a soap opera without stirring up the emotions or intellect even though its subject matter is so disturbing. Everything about it seems Hitchcockian, half-baked and superficial, as it tries desperately to get at the dark side of relationships but can never quite communicate what it has to say in a level-headed way. Depardieu appears stiff and the beautiful Ardant annoyingly ill-humored, with neither getting much out of their characters that’s particularly interesting. The narration is by the experienced lover Madame Jouve (Véronique Silver), a busybody who was left physically and mentally crippled over a love affair. She’s the sympathetic proprietor of the tennis club who seems to understand the adulterers (at least as much as how Truffaut wants the viewer to understand them), yet her narration seems to make things even more distant.

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