Working with Jean-Claude Carriere, the go-to provocateur for everyone from Luis Bunuel to Jonathan Glazer, Nagisa Oshima crafted this truly bizarre one-off drama. Peter Jones (Anthony Higgins) is vexed when his wife Margaret (Charlotte Rampling) appears to have taken a new lover, but his nose is further out of joint when he discovers her new paramour is a chimp called Max. To make matters worse, this isn’t sex but love, Peter’s world crumbles as he realises that he’s been bested by an animal. Max Mon Amour sounds like a comedy, but it’s a deadly serious examination of modern morals and sexual jealousy, played with a straight-face and the serious intention which might be expected from the director of In the Realm of the Senses. Without any real graphic content, Max Mon Amour deconstructs the male psyche with broad, brutal strokes, and looks at a darker side of animalistic machismo than most directors would be prepared to explore.
The 2014 death of director Alain Resnais provides a welcome excuse to exhume on of his best films, 1961’s haunting Last Year in Marienbad. X (Giorgio Albertazzi) arrives at a gloomy spa resort where he strikes up off relationships with A (Delphine Seyrig) and M (Sacha Piteoff), but it’s never clear who any of them are. Have they met before, are they lovers, rivals, or what? Resnais never revels the answers, but the beautiful deep-focus black and white photography and weirdly looping dialogue make it a pleasure to unravel the secrets of Marienbad’s corridors. Based on the novel The Invention of Morel, the secret is actually a sci-fi conceit; the hotel is a hologram, and the characters X meets are ghosts of the past. For him to fall in love with A, and prefer to become part of the hologram, is an extraordinary conceit, and baffled audiences at the time; absurdly included in The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made, modern audiences may find a more profound heart in Resnais’s pretentious but rich and ambiguous film that his detractors at the time did.
Remade with Josh Hartnett and Diane Kruger as Wicker Park, this Gallic thriller is an ingenious slice of voyeurism from writer/director Gilles Mimouni, with Max (Vincent Cassell) as the soon-to-be-married businessman who spies his old-flame Lisa (Monica Belluci) in a busy café. He sneaks into her apartment, only to become involved with Alice (Romane Bohringer). All is not what it seems, and Mimoui’s twisty-turny flashback structure keeps things on edge until the true nature of the deception is revealed. A top-notch cast of French stars and a Pulp Fiction-style time-switch make L’Appartement an engrossing study of romantic obsession as only the French could make.
With so many film-makers aiming low, it’s a pleasure to find one like the late French auteur Patrice Chereau who consistently tests the imagination and intelligence of his audience. Adapting Joseph Conrad’s novel The Return, Leconte constructs a hypnotic chamber drama of great passion and intensity. Isabelle Huppert (The Lacemaker) plays Gabrielle, whose marriage to Jean (Pascal Greggory) is rocked when he discovers a letter that indicates her infidelity. All is not what it seems, and while Chereau keeps the drama small-scale and indoors, the sense of 1900’s Paris morality is stifling and tangible. Huppert is sensational as Gabrielle, and anyone who has experienced the paid of a relationship collapse will understand her predicament, beautifully performed and caught with admirable sensitivity.
Marking an early role for the luminous Kristin-Scott Thomas, writer/director Eric Rochant’s Autobus is a hard-to-find gem of teenage angst. Yvan Attal plays French schoolboy Bruno, whose girlfriend (Charlotte Gainsbourg) doesn’t believe he really loves her. In order to get to her in Spain, Bruno decides to hijack a school-bus with 22 kids on board, as well as a unwilling teacher (Scott-Thomas). Bruno’s lack of understanding of action and consequence is clearly naïve, but there’s also a degree of sympathy possible for his anti-social actions, and Autobus develops less like a thriller than a commentary of the foolishness of youth, with Bruno snapped out of his romantic intensity by his growing relationships with the bus’s occupants. Somewhere between Dog Day Afternoon and Speed, Rochant’s film is a rarity, a siege drama with compassion and humanity instead of shoot-outs and action.
Jacques Rivette’s 193 minute long whimsical drama requires quite a commitment from audiences, but those prepared to stay the course get a big reward. Aspiring magician Celine (Juliet Berto) and Julie (Dominique Labourier) strike up an odd friendship, one that leads them to discover a portal to another dimension, in which the interfere in the daily business of a turn-of-the century household. Shot in a sunny Paris summer, Celine and Julie is a magical film, ingeniously filmed on real locations where the public frequently stand gawping at the actors, adding a surreal quality to a film steeped in strangeness. Somewhere between Henry James and Desperately Seeking Susan, Rivette’s astonishing film is one of the true unseen masterworks of cinema; clear your diary and open your mind.
Also knows as Love Without Pity, Eric Rochant’s haunting film is an existential drama of great charm and imagination Hippo (Hippolyte Giradot) is a dissolute young Parisian, so in tune with his city that the Eiffel tower lights up at the snap of his finger. But Hippo is also a master at dodging responsibility, and a combination of his brother’s gambling habit, his own low-level drug-dealing and a romance with Natalie (Mireille Perrier) lead him to a crisis that he refuses to deal with. Predating Generation x, X and Z, this is a smartly filmed drama of live around the Sorbonne, sympathetic to the dissolute behavior of youth, but also savvy enough to point out the dangers of self-absorption.