"You have to dream of him and imagine his dreams."
Trevor Willsmer | London, England | 03/27/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Best known for the beautifully framed but now almost comically elusive and incomprehensible Last Year at Marienbad, Stavisky is one of Alain Resnais' most accessible films and one where he manages to marry style and narrative structure to his subject perfectly. While it helps to have some grounding in the disastrous pre-WW2 financial scandal his anti-hero precipitated to get the most out of the film, his approach is particularly well-judged. For much of the movie we meet Stavisky, financier and con-man, at the height of his powers and the film concentrates both on his style and extravagance - he passionately believes that you have to be seen to lose money on frivolities to make money - and his play-acting - he is even seen reading a part onstage opposite an auditioning actress. Stavisky is a constant contradiction, a man who spends money to be remembered when he would be better spending it to be forgotten, whose need to be loved for the moment makes him unable to deal with oncoming disasters when they can still be averted. As Michel Lonsdale's doctor notes, "To understand Stavisky sometimes you have to forget files. You have to dream of him and to imagine his dreams." Stavisky remains an enigma simply because he is so simple - there is no real secret to him. Like his fortune, he simply invents himself.Jean-Paul Belmondo is superb in the lead, at once at home in luxury and high society but still able to pull a petty swindle over stolen gems, supremely confident and alive in company yet in private haunted by his father's suicide over the dishonor his early arrests bought on the family name that drives him to strive to live purely in the present. He's complimented by Charles Boyer's wonderful final performance as an aristocrat who has happily wasted the fortune his ancestors took generations to amass over the course of his single lifetime and can forgive his friend anything for the joy to be alive that his company brings. The moment his casually anti-semitic right-wing aristocrat discovers that Stavisky is not only not French but a Jew is beautifully observed: he stands by him as a friend, but is disappointed that he was not honest to him, while displaying just a trace of awareness that had Stavisky been honest, he never would have become his friend.But this is the story of a fall from a great height - indeed, our first view of Stavisky is of him descending in an elevator as Trostsky arrives in France to seek asylum. It is only in the last third that the dominoes start to fall and the real conspiracy starts to emerge. Stavisky is a criminal, a former petty informer who now has somehow managed to reverse roles and now has most of the government and police in his pocket and acting as his informers, but he himself is being used. Not only is he planning to block funds to facilitate the beginning of the Spanish Civil War (to him simply a financial opportunity: he has no conception of the moral consequences of his actions) but his downfall is used to destroy the left in French politics. (It is only here that the initially clumsy device of paralleling Stavisky's fall with Trotsky's brief period of exile in France comes into focus.) Although his end is not shown, it is left clear that he was more pawn than prime mover. Ultimately his fall leaves the left destroyed, the far right in control and only the most innocent imprisoned.In a film full of pluses, the script is superb, Resnais' use of the camera impeccable and there's even a good score from Stephen Sondheim. The only major minus is Resnais' handling of the actresses - more vacant than vital, as is so often the case in his films of this era - and the tendency to turn the left-wing characters into purely walking-talking ideological monologues.Sadly, the Image DVD is a little problematic - aside from it not always being recognised by my player, the transfer is acceptable but not entirely without problems (it appears to be a standards conversion from a PAL master) and none of the few extras (including an audio interview with the camera-shy Resnais) from the StudioCanal disc in France that it has been cloned from have made the leap across the Atlantic. Highly recommended, nonetheless.(A version of this review appeared in Movie Collector magazine)"
Charles S. Tashiro | Agoura Hills, CA USA | 04/07/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Alain Resnais's "Stavisky..." provides a fictionalized account of the last months of the notorious swindler (played by Jean-Paul Belmondo), whose financial shell games brought down the French government in the early 1930s. I sometimes think that the word "exquisite" was coined to describe this film and I don't mean that entirely positively. Immaculately designed, shot, lit and cut, nearly perfect in its way, "Stavisky..." is designer filmmaking at its most refined, elegant and yes, precious. Resnais and screenwriter Jorge Semprun are very conscious of the fictional nature of what they are presenting, to the point of beginning the film with a disclaimer. Whatever the historical reality of the Stavisky character, we certainly believe that as portrayed by Belmondo, he could sell coals to Newcastle. He is aided by a host of first-rate French actors, including Michel Lonsdale, François Perrier and especially Charles Boyer, in a final performance that makes every gesture into the physical equivalent of an aphorism. The force of the actors' personalities, the fastidious period recreation, Stephen Sondheim's jazzy score, all contribute to the film's point: no matter what evil Stavisky may have caused, it was impossible for those who knew him well not to be taken in by the romance he could conjure out of thin air.This willingness to excuse corruption by dint of style seems very French, and as an alternative to the easy moralizing of American culture, very refreshing. Still, the glamorized decadence may be easy to enjoy as the intricate surface of a movie, but not so easy to imagine forgiving in reality, particularly for the victims of it. (Among other things, Stavisky was responsible for flooding France with millions of francs of worthless government bonds.) I'm not suggesting that the film would be improved by a sanctimonious, Hollywood-style reminder of the evils of corruption. It would be ruined by such a banality. Rather, because we cannot ever quite forget the reality of the period (the actions take place in the depths of the Great Depression, after all), we also can never quite accept the film's aestheticized vision as anything other than an extremely beautiful evasion.In a sense, that evasion does get at a reality of the thirties, the willingness of the rich and powerful to turn away from the ever-deepening crises around them. The problem is that in so successfully achieving the world view of a thin-blooded, exhausted society, "Stavisky..." seems a tad removed itself. But exquisitely so."
AMAZING TRUE TALE OF FRENCH SCAM ARTIST
Robin Simmons | Palm Springs area, CA United States | 03/22/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
""STAVISKY" is the true story of Serge Alexandre, known to the world as Stavisky. And Belmondo is terrific as the titular con artist who looted France during the 1930s. Acclaimed director Alain Resnais shepherds a consummate cast that includes Charles Boyer through this lavishly mounted saga of deception, romance, and bittersweet justice. Stephen Sondheim's big score is memorable and evokes the era as well as the moral corruption. You will believe the time and place and characters as the events unfold like a grand, medievel morality play but with superb production values. An odd and interersting film about an amoral character driven by greed and power. Deadly sins both. Belmondo is pitch perfect."
"A Masterpiece...Sondheim wrote the Music"
Victor Seth Sargeant | LONGMONT CO USA | 06/17/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
""If you liked "Enchanted April" you must see this impressionistic film. Hazy, luscious, smooth as satin movement,
with this "haunting music" by Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim loved the film enough to write the score. He rarely writes for film.
Mysterious, charming love story, that is breathtaking, based on a true French story. An "ode" to white roses....Monte Carlo and the prewar France society. Vintage garments, airplanes and autos, could have won an Oscar for this alone. Like good wine on a summer evening that creates a smile for no reason?
"Sarge in the Colorado Rockies""