A saltfree dumpling from Kimstim inflated with Chantal Akerm
J. Faulk | New York NY USA | 10/28/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Chantal Akerman chose to adapt Vol. 5 of Proust's masterwork, didn't understand her completed script, shot it anyway thinking she would instil cohesion in the edit. That's what she says in the Supplement. She decided to jettison everything not bearing on the "tension" between Simon and Ariane. The result: 115 minutes of monotony and 3 minutes of melodrama.
I bought this DVD to see Stanislas Merhar (Dry Cleaning, Frank Spadone), who plays Simon Levy. He's on the screen constantly but as johnny one note concerned only with Ariane Rey: where is she? what's she doing? what's her explanation? Merhar is too handsome and fit for the role. Put out a casting call for Marcel Prousts.
I've seen Sylvie Testud, who plays Ariane, in one supporting role (La Vie en rose) but did not retain her. Her face is ordinary, not womanly, but at least she's slim. As janey one note in this film, she's utterly relentlessly passive, a ventriloquist's dummy: "yes...no...maybe...whatever you want."
Ariane is too fancy a name for her, but remindful of Aryan, which Akerman certainly realizes. Rey could be Aryan or Jewish. The name Simon Levy is emphatically Jewish. Akerman says Jewish (and homosexual) persecution is a concern of hers, but if it figured in the original script it has been clipped out.
Both Akerman and Testud are interviewed in the Supplement. Vertigo and Eyes Wide Shut are discussed as cousins to this film. May I say, these two cinematic cannonballs make us even more aware that Akerman is shooting BB's or even blanks. And why didn't anyone mention Antonioni, the master of monotonous relationships? Both the director and the actress find powerful resonances in the present film about desire, obsession, love, possession, the man seeking to merge with the woman as one, the mystery of lesbianism. Ladies, don't make a meal out of the bread and water you are setting before us.
The soundtrack: No one raises his or her voice in this film until Simon shouts "Ariane!" at the end. Ariane's high heels provide the familiar annoying clack on hard surfaces. Simon coughs or sneezes occasionally from allergy (whereas his predecessor Marcel Proust was invalided by respiratory problems). A Schubert sonata provides some touches of beauty. Rachmaninoff's Isle of the Dead injects some welcome tension and punctuates the ending of the film. Ariane's catchy song "Tout ca parce qu'au bois de Chaville" is a 1950s hit available as an MP3 download from Amazon. In the windows duet from Cosi fan tutte, Ariane sings like a school girl though she says she takes voice lessons every week.
The first three quarters of this film are repetitions of Simon's tracking Ariane and interrogating her. All her responses are nebulous. She is nonresistant to his kisses and his two breathy frottages and his weak completions. She herself initiates nothing.
A scene I must mention is Simon bathing in a sudsy tub. He addresses her, off camera, about her scent by way of providing himself with a stimulating note. The wall beside his tub contains a thick refractory glass panel behind which is another interior. I was startled as Ariane's naked form rose suddenly behind the panel, for she is bathing in a second bathroom. She continues to wash and Simon rises, covering himself with a robe, and presses against the glass as if she is his mirror image.
NEXT PARA IS A SPOILER
In the film's final quarter, Simon concludes that Ariane is indeed engaging in lesbian practices and he feels irrevocably shut out. In his apartment he awakes her in her cramped little bed and tells her she must leave at once and forever. He insists on driving her to her aunt's country house, then reverses his decision, and they drive to a seaside hotel. As night falls, she says she is going for a swim, but all too quickly the weather acts up and he runs to the shore, "Ariane!" He strips off his clothes and plunges in. In the black uproaring waves I could barely make out whether he reached her, but I think he did. In the calm morning a motor boat brings him in, alone, right up to pass beneath the camera, his body chilled, his face stone.
Chantal Akerman seems content to make films to her own taste and for festival audiences who can be intrigued by her techniques. Then it's direct to DVD. And this is a channel worth having."