A viewer would not need to be exceptionally alert to notice the use of dividers, partitions, barriers within the wide-screen frame, tangible walls erected between people. But this visual conceit is not pushed past the point of plausibility -- not past the proper domain of interior design -- and the stylistic expression of the theme extends far beyond that. The conscious artificiality of the presentation -- the convoluted plot, the aloof comic tone, the succulent confectionary colors, the stagy lighting effects, the unrelenting studio snowfall, blanketing the streets, mantling the overcoats, serving as literal "curtains" between scenes, and at one point actually, surrealistically, coming indoors -- sits atop the deeper reality, the underlying truth, in much the same way as the human façade sits atop the hidden self. More than just fears, as the title has it, are private; pretty much the essential person is. The mental person, the sentimental person. (The title of the film in French, Coeurs, translates as Hearts, and if Claude Sautet had not already taken the title of A Heart in Winter, that one in plural would have gone well with the heavy snowfall, an intensification of the scattered flakes in Resnais's Love unto Death, there again serving as a transitional as well as a metaphorical device. We might note, too, that the musical composer, a veteran of American television primarily, The X-Files specifically, would appear to have been selected solely for his name: Mark Snow.) It is altogether remarkable, altogether magical, how these seemingly cardboard figures -- the philosophical bartender, the bitter drunk, the impatient fiancée, the desperate manhunter, the staid old bachelor, the false saint -- come to represent all of humanity; how the godlike overhead views of each of them at the end effectively take in the entire planet; how singleness can stand for tout le monde. Remarkable, at last, how something so light can have such weight.
Resnais, by inclination and practice, devises detective movies without crimes, and for that matter without detectives. As the de facto lead investigator, rounding up the unusual suspects, he never really gets to the bottom of anything, but always burrows below the surface, smack into the heart of the Human Condition. The deceptiveness of appearances is of course a commonplace in the run-of-the-mill detective movie, but Resnais makes it into something more than a mere platitude, more than a mere plot trick; he makes it into the main subject, the focal point, the compositional center, a virtual worldview. (In Last Year at Marienbad, in Je T'Aime, Je T'Aime, in Providence, in Life Is a Bed of Roses, in Smoking/No Smoking, sporadically in others, he has taken those deceptive appearances to an extreme, subverting the fundamental function of a camera and photographing things that are, within their own fictional framework, patently untrustworthy and untrue.) No filmmaker alive or dead attains a greater distance between the plot summary of a film and the actual sight of it. No filmmaker, to put a finer point on it, is a greater filmmaker. If he has lately settled into a bit of a rut, he continues tenaciously to widen it.