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by Jay Seaver

"Lurid AND boring. Man, I hate lurid and boring."
2 stars

I can't say that there weren't warning signs. The description of this movie in the Brattle's program was not the thing I usually go for, and I didn't much like the previous three films I'd seen in the "Caihers du Cinema" series that weekend. But the Watch-a-Thon was on, so by seeing this, I would raise another ten bucks to keep the Brattle open. It's not so tough to sit through a bad movie for charity, right? And then Olivier Assayas's name appeared in the opening credits. I looked left, I looked right, and I realized enough other people were feeling charitable that I was blocked in.

Assayas is only the co-writer for André Téchiné, who also directs. They tell the story of Nina Larrieux (Juliette Binoche), a young actress who regularly bails out after her one scene in a play to have sex with her boyfriend/roommate. After leaving him, she meets Paulot (Wadeck Stanczak) at a rental agency while looking for a new place, but though he falls for her, she has eyes for his roommate, Quentin (Lambert Wilson). Quentin's a virile, unstable sort who used to be an actor and now works in live sex shows; after he leaves the scene, his former director (Jean-Louis Trintignant) appears to offer Nina a role.

There's no doubt Binoche is arresting in one of her first major roles, but it's the kind of role that seems to show up in a great many French films: The beautiful young woman who, even though we spend the most time with her, doesn't really have much of a personality; she just sort of passively moves between men who don't treat her very well. It's like she's less a character than a medium on which her boyfriends can express their cruelty. By the time she has her chance to take center stage, we really don't know that much about her. It's no wonder the director can't seem to get Nina to invest much of herself in her character; there doesn't seem to be much "her" to invest.

That's somewhat unfair; this sort of character and movie isn't exclusive to French directors (though it does seem to show up in French films disproportionately). And Nina's not a completely blank medium, though I struggle to really come up with many descriptive adjectives. She doesn't talk enough to seem flighty. She's got bad taste in men. She acts irresponsibly and then wonders why her life is a mess. It's a nice performance, and we wind up liking Binoche's Nina, even if there doesn't seem to be very much to her.

The guys are a little more easily defined. Wilson's Quentin is the fun, showy part, all unrestrained id. He makes the most of the time he's on-screen, pulling off the whole monstrous/seductive thing. Stanczak is occasionally chilling as the friendly boy-next-door type who starts to get creepy when faced with rejection. Trintignant makes Scrutzler, the director, mercurial, touched by his own tragedy. His scenes with Binoche toward the end are what the movie is leading up to in its slow, quiet way - two people trying to come to terms with loss, but very reluctant to address it directly.

That's part of what makes the movie frustrating: Téchiné bounces between sublime and lurid, banal and peculiar, but never really manages compelling. There's skill at work, but it's not seeming to accomplish anything.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=13801&reviewer=371
originally posted: 02/12/06 21:51:33
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User Comments

8/17/07 fools♫gold A bit better than "English Patient"; or maybe the same, I don't know. 3 stars
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  DVD: 15-Feb-2005



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