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Alice and Martin
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by iF Magazine

"Profound and exhilerating."
4 stars

Director Andre Techine is one of the cinema’s contemporary masters. He directed two of the better films of the 1990’s; WILD REED and THIEVES and now he’s moving into the new decade with a good start. Actually his latest -- ALICE AND MARTIN -- was made two years ago and is just now getting a release here. While it’s not top drawer Techine, if you’re looking for intelligent entertainment with great acting, masterful direction and sophisticated themes then this is the ticket.

Part of Techine’s talent is that he doesn’t reveal everything about the characters or the plot all at once. Instead he withholds information choosing instead to slowly develop the mood, the time and the place before developing the characters or the story line. It’s as if he wants us to get used to the characters within the context of their surroundings and at about the same rate as the other characters do.


The great thing about ALICE AND MARTIN is the way its power creeps up on you and, like a good novel, takes on a life of its own until it attains such a rich complexity that you don’t want it to end. And when it does end it takes a while to sort out the film’s meaning, the character motivations and the plot development.


In the film’s short opening sequence we first meet Martin as a boy where he has been put into the care of his father -- a man he hasn’t seen for years -- whom we see as an overbearingly strict man. Techine sets up the psychological relationship quickly and we see that Martin will not do well under this patriarchal figure in his life.


Suddenly, we are thrust 10 years into the future and we see the boy storming out the door of his house apparently running away from home. He runs off into the country and -- in a beautiful series of crisp edits and startlingly intense shots -- we go on his journey with him.


After Martin is found and returned home he goes through a short recovery period and moves into a flat in Paris with his brother and his roommate Alice (Juliette Binoche). Martin has a string of luck, becomes a model and soon falls in love with Alice. Within a short few months she too has fallen for him, they begin living together and she becomes pregnant.


The secrets and psychological complexities of his life are slowly revealed to Alice (and to us) and as the film goes on she begins to confront his problems and helps him come to grip with his past. Without giving much away, Alice tries to help him by taking his problems into her own hands.


Like any good French film ALICE AND MARTIN takes a good hour to fully develop the plot and all the character’s psychological connections. In a day and age of instant gratification this can hamper an audience’s reaction to a film but, even in slow moments, Techine keeps the film going strong by adding significant plot circumstances and meaningful character development into the mix.


The acting is top notch across the board. Binoche has an ephemeral quality to her acting meaning that her looks and her character are always changing and she has the ability to really disappear into a role to the point that it seems she isn’t acting at all. Alexis plays Martin as sometimes arrogant and sometimes vulnerable, thus revealing his character’s psychological weakness.


Besides the acting and the smart script, it’s the editing, the camera movement, the framing and the shot selection that really makes the film soar. Techine has directed a dozen features and by now has significantly refined his cinematic expertise. One way he keeps the audience on their toes is with the use of quick, and occasionally confusing, time jumps. It is as if he is trying to find a cinematic equivalent to the profound and exhilarating changes that make up the character’s mindset.


He too knows how to introduce a shot into the story that perfectly blends form with content. An example of this economic style comes toward the end when Martin reaches for Alice’s pregnant stomach and suddenly we are thrust back in time to a revealing flashback that gives us the entire meaning of Martin’s life up to that point. It’s a scene that is so subtle yet so masterfully full of meaning and significance that it can bowl you over.

And from there the film grows in stature -- deeply affecting each character involved in the psychological drama -- from merely a good one to a near great one.-- Matt Langdon

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=4415&reviewer=119
originally posted: 02/22/01 19:21:33
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USA
  21-Jul-2000 (R)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  17-Mar-1999




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