The Lovers (Louis Malle / France, 1958):
(Les Amants)

What a difference a lay makes... The thawing of the bourgeois sphinx is a spectacle modulated not out of Flaubert but of Perrault, Jeanne Moreau in the garden in a flowing white nightgown is the most erotic of Sleeping Beauties. The socialite alternates between her Dijon cottage with a stolid husband (Alain Cuny) and Parisian polo matches with a playboy dolt (Josť Luis de Villalonga), yet boredom reigns. Provincial marriage is a maze of corridors and furniture, big-city flings are flashy but vacant carnival rides; in between is the plebeian student (Jean-Marc Bory), whose line about the ladyís stalled convertible ("It looks dead, I suggest an operation") is just the kind of elegantly dirty joke savored by Louis Malle. The languid buildup is all perfumed surfaces, gracefully elongated figures, dialogue simultaneously 19th-century moony and right on the verge of LíAvventura: "ĎAlwaysí is a female word ... Poet or pessimist? Archeologist! ... The tragedy Jeanne thought she was in had become a farce." Brahms, tall swaying grass, drifting rowboats and soft-focus moonlight lubricate Moreauís amorous fireworks with Bory, culminating in a trembling close-up of the heroine (she murmurs in bed while her loverís head disappears below the frame) thatís half Ecstasy, half Ninotchka. "Is this a land you invented for me to lose myself in?" "La nuit est une femme." Seeking a frank new lyricism, Malle wisely shares control of the mise-en-scŤne with the lugubrious carnal spirit Manny Farber once dubbed "Jeanne Morose," whose undulating-waterbed performance embodies the liaisonís transfiguring effects and sets the tone for the new decadeís wounded art-house Eros. As dawn breaks and the lovers take the road towards the unknown, it becomes clear that the cause behind the filmís scandal wasnít its fleeting nudity, but its nonjudgmental portrayal of a woman willing to leave behind marital and maternal duties to pursue desire on her own terms. From Louise de Vilmorinís novel. Cinematography by Henri DecaŽ. With Judith Magre and Gaston Modot. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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