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Claude Sautet: melodramatic throwback

Rosalie flips sides, César flips out.

The Things of Life: One of three Romy Schneider melodramas new to blu-ray this week.
The Things of Life: One of three Romy Schneider melodramas new to blu-ray this week.

It’s been almost four decades since Romy Schneider’s career was cut short by cardiac arrest at the unripe age of 43. Schneider made her acting debut when she was 15, and during her time spent before the camera, she abetted many of the great directors of her day (Orson Welles, Otto Preminger, Luchino Visconti, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Joseph Losey, etc.). New to blu-ray this month are a splendid trio of melodramas from the early ‘70s, brilliantly restored by Film Movement. The two films by Claude Sautet — the director Schneider called her favorite to work with — are available as a two-disc set while my favorite of the trio, Andrzej Zulawski’s down and dirty mash note to acting, is available as a standalone.

Les Choses de la Vie (The Things Of Life) (1970)

Let’s welcome a throwback to a time when drivers would pull off the road and physically exit their autos to get a glimpse of the carnage rather than hitting the brakes for a slow-speed look-see. We learn the incidentals of the accident through snatches of conversation blurted by the gossipping horde. What they don’t know: the driver, thrown from his Alfa Romeo and lying face down in the dirt, is a booked-solid architect (Michel Piccoli) on his way to run off with his lover (Romy Schneider), the Dear Jane letter to his wife (Léa Massari) still lounging in his breast pocket.

Video:

Les Choses de la Vie trailer 1970

The incident begins to rewind under the credits, heralding a disordered chronology aimed at unraveling the events that led up to wreck. The crash is the film’s centerpiece, a spot to which we will return throughout the picture. Claude Sautet directs with a surgeon’s eye towards nuance; every overcranked divot of dirt and uprooted daisy is carefully detailed, and you can practically feel the glass dust in your nostrils the moment the laminated windshield cracks. The romance takes an occasional backseat to the melodramatic repetition, but the powerful payoff justifies the jaunt. And the exquisite process photography puts CGI to shame.

Video:

César et Rosalie trailer 1972

Cesar and Rosalie (1972)

Melodrama #2 finds director Claude Sautet once again teaming with screenwriter Jean-Loup Dabadie (Vincent, François, Paul and the Others, Les Choses de la Vie) for a love triangle as old as time. Rosalie (Romy Schneider) is faced with three options: César (Yves Montand) a wealthy scrap metal dealer with a mean streak, David (Sami Frey) a suave but determinedly bland comic book scribe, or her independence. First impressions favor César. Montand initially plays the part with affable bluster, until a threat arises in the form of a fellow wedding guest. David first introduces himself as Rosalie’s ex, and then doubles-down by professing his undying love for her. The car ride home finds César loudly shrugging it off, but his bellowing only acts as proof that even he doesn’t believe what he’s saying. Rosalie claims to be liberated — “If I wanted to be with David I would” — yet, sensing César’s jealousy, she agrees not to see David anymore. (She is at times presented as a prop for both men: fetching another round of beers for César’s poker playing pals or brewing a pot of coffee for David’s cohort.) Rosalie flips sides, César flips out, and in the end the three achieve a level of urbane acceptance that makes Noel Coward seem crass by comparison.

Video:

L’Important C’est D’aimer trailer 1975

L’Important C’est D’aimer (That Most Important Thing: Love (1975)

It’s the last act of a desperate leading lady — or as Nadine (Romy Schneider) sees it, the only job currently keeping her off the unemployment line. Living with her husband in a wealthy arts patron’s spare chalet, phone service cut off, nothing to drink but instant coffee, and suddenly, X-rated erotica looks good. As the action heats up on set, the onscreen cinematographer closes in on the softcore porn-within-a-film. In deference to Nadine’s standing as a legitimate actress, Andrzej Zulawski directs his cameraperson to make a hasty retreat down the hall in the opposite direction. But there’s a third blinking-shutter, this one slung around the neck of Servais (Fabio Testi), a freelance lensman who arrives on the scene, much to the chagrin of a leading lady not eager to publicize a project she’s only doing for the money. Rapacious predatory pans dog the two when Servais returns the next day for more photographs. Nadine confesses that it’s been some time since she landed a magazine cover, which may explain her current work mode. Thinking that the quickest way to a woman’s heart is through his wallet, Servais, looking to invest in a new production of Richard III with Nadine in the role of Lady Anne, pays a call on flamboyant thespian Karl-Heinz Zimmer (an accrescent Klaus Kinski), who in turn suggests that he borrow 10 large from an old timey loan shark (played with slimy gusto by Claude Dauphin). “Actresses are fragile, they break easy” observes her beholden husband Jacques (Jacques Dutronc), who edits a small film magazine out of their flat. Here’s hoping he has a sharper grasp on cinema than he does Nadine’s vitality, for he knows nothing about the purgative power that an obsessive love of craft holds over her. A gritty, thoroughly engrossing handbook on the perils and privileges of acting before the camera, brought to you by those in the loop.

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The Things of Life: One of three Romy Schneider melodramas new to blu-ray this week.
The Things of Life: One of three Romy Schneider melodramas new to blu-ray this week.

It’s been almost four decades since Romy Schneider’s career was cut short by cardiac arrest at the unripe age of 43. Schneider made her acting debut when she was 15, and during her time spent before the camera, she abetted many of the great directors of her day (Orson Welles, Otto Preminger, Luchino Visconti, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Joseph Losey, etc.). New to blu-ray this month are a splendid trio of melodramas from the early ‘70s, brilliantly restored by Film Movement. The two films by Claude Sautet — the director Schneider called her favorite to work with — are available as a two-disc set while my favorite of the trio, Andrzej Zulawski’s down and dirty mash note to acting, is available as a standalone.

Les Choses de la Vie (The Things Of Life) (1970)

Let’s welcome a throwback to a time when drivers would pull off the road and physically exit their autos to get a glimpse of the carnage rather than hitting the brakes for a slow-speed look-see. We learn the incidentals of the accident through snatches of conversation blurted by the gossipping horde. What they don’t know: the driver, thrown from his Alfa Romeo and lying face down in the dirt, is a booked-solid architect (Michel Piccoli) on his way to run off with his lover (Romy Schneider), the Dear Jane letter to his wife (Léa Massari) still lounging in his breast pocket.

Video:

Les Choses de la Vie trailer 1970

The incident begins to rewind under the credits, heralding a disordered chronology aimed at unraveling the events that led up to wreck. The crash is the film’s centerpiece, a spot to which we will return throughout the picture. Claude Sautet directs with a surgeon’s eye towards nuance; every overcranked divot of dirt and uprooted daisy is carefully detailed, and you can practically feel the glass dust in your nostrils the moment the laminated windshield cracks. The romance takes an occasional backseat to the melodramatic repetition, but the powerful payoff justifies the jaunt. And the exquisite process photography puts CGI to shame.

Video:

César et Rosalie trailer 1972

Cesar and Rosalie (1972)

Melodrama #2 finds director Claude Sautet once again teaming with screenwriter Jean-Loup Dabadie (Vincent, François, Paul and the Others, Les Choses de la Vie) for a love triangle as old as time. Rosalie (Romy Schneider) is faced with three options: César (Yves Montand) a wealthy scrap metal dealer with a mean streak, David (Sami Frey) a suave but determinedly bland comic book scribe, or her independence. First impressions favor César. Montand initially plays the part with affable bluster, until a threat arises in the form of a fellow wedding guest. David first introduces himself as Rosalie’s ex, and then doubles-down by professing his undying love for her. The car ride home finds César loudly shrugging it off, but his bellowing only acts as proof that even he doesn’t believe what he’s saying. Rosalie claims to be liberated — “If I wanted to be with David I would” — yet, sensing César’s jealousy, she agrees not to see David anymore. (She is at times presented as a prop for both men: fetching another round of beers for César’s poker playing pals or brewing a pot of coffee for David’s cohort.) Rosalie flips sides, César flips out, and in the end the three achieve a level of urbane acceptance that makes Noel Coward seem crass by comparison.

Video:

L’Important C’est D’aimer trailer 1975

L’Important C’est D’aimer (That Most Important Thing: Love (1975)

It’s the last act of a desperate leading lady — or as Nadine (Romy Schneider) sees it, the only job currently keeping her off the unemployment line. Living with her husband in a wealthy arts patron’s spare chalet, phone service cut off, nothing to drink but instant coffee, and suddenly, X-rated erotica looks good. As the action heats up on set, the onscreen cinematographer closes in on the softcore porn-within-a-film. In deference to Nadine’s standing as a legitimate actress, Andrzej Zulawski directs his cameraperson to make a hasty retreat down the hall in the opposite direction. But there’s a third blinking-shutter, this one slung around the neck of Servais (Fabio Testi), a freelance lensman who arrives on the scene, much to the chagrin of a leading lady not eager to publicize a project she’s only doing for the money. Rapacious predatory pans dog the two when Servais returns the next day for more photographs. Nadine confesses that it’s been some time since she landed a magazine cover, which may explain her current work mode. Thinking that the quickest way to a woman’s heart is through his wallet, Servais, looking to invest in a new production of Richard III with Nadine in the role of Lady Anne, pays a call on flamboyant thespian Karl-Heinz Zimmer (an accrescent Klaus Kinski), who in turn suggests that he borrow 10 large from an old timey loan shark (played with slimy gusto by Claude Dauphin). “Actresses are fragile, they break easy” observes her beholden husband Jacques (Jacques Dutronc), who edits a small film magazine out of their flat. Here’s hoping he has a sharper grasp on cinema than he does Nadine’s vitality, for he knows nothing about the purgative power that an obsessive love of craft holds over her. A gritty, thoroughly engrossing handbook on the perils and privileges of acting before the camera, brought to you by those in the loop.

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Comments
2

You forget Preminger's "The Cardinal" -- and I didn't even have to look it up. LOL From what I recall, a better actress than her contemporary, Anna Karina. See you at the drive-in!!!

June 12, 2020

Read it again, Sal. You don't really think I'd overlook "The Cardinal." In my list of directorial collaborators Otto is #2 behind Orson. Hope you're doing well!

June 12, 2020

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