Les Amants (The Lovers)

Posted on February 10, 2011

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There is a scene in the film where Jeanne points at her husband, calls him a “bear” and bursts into uncontrollable laughter in front of her guests and a stranger who had offered her a ride home. It was the stranger who had suggested the name to her as a joke, but to Jeanne, the stranger had unknowingly hit upon the truth. Her boundless amusement at this name is tinged with hysterical sadness and desperation that even she doesn’t realize. The stranger can only guess at it. The two guests, an empty-headed socialite friend and a polo-playing Spanish lover, are predictably uncomfortable. The husband is somewhat amused but indulgent.

The scene is shot in an understated, almost off-hand style. Jeanne gets out of the car, greets her guests, looks at her husband, has her giggling fit and still giggling, leaves them to get dressed for dinner. The scene is over before you realize it but so much is said or left unsaid and unrealized that you can only marvel at the deftness with which it is captured and performed.

The same is true of the entire film. With a run time of just 85 minutes, I felt the film ended too soon, most films would take off from the point where this one ended — escape from home towards an uncertain future. Thelma and Louise comes to mind. But before you face the future, you have to make a decision — this film is about that decision, in fact the precise moment when that decision becomes meaningful. When Jeanne and her new lover walk out of her house together and drive off, they are confident that their love will sustain. But doubts assail her almost as soon as she drives out of the gates of her house. It is at this point that most of us would run back and give in to the doubt. It is a terrifying feeling; the thing that appeared the most natural and correct suddenly loses its shine in the cold light of the day and common sense. But Jeanne doesn’t turn back even though she is not so sure. There is a moment when she is sitting in a restaurant with her new lover, the same morning that she left her house. She looks lost and slowly turns back only to see her own reflection in the mirror. I guess there is nothing there for her to go back to. In the mirror, she must have seen a new self — her bare face, her loose hair, love and doubt written on her face.

The film is graced by Jeanne Moreau. She is a vision of utter loveliness and radiance. I fell in love with Moreau when her character jumped into Seine to protest against Jules’ misogynist view of a play inJules and Jim. I fell in love again when she sang Le Tourbillon in the same film. Cinema needs women like her – women of great loveliness, talent and that indefinable something that so few of us possess. They elevate cinema, they give it beauty, power and immortality.

Moreau is exquisitely photographed in the film especially, in the moonlight sequence. She is like an angel floating on the fields with a mortal for company. The lovely music adds to the dreamlike quality. It is so powerful that as a viewer, you believe in the magic of love, you believe that it can last forever. I see that desperate hope in the very last scene of the film: as the lovers drive towards their future, we see a horse on the side of the road; a horse so dazzlingly white and absurdly beautiful as to be unreal. Maybe the horse just happened to be there when they shot the scene — this is after all the countryside. But to me, it evokes the night of beauty and passion that Jeanne so desperately wants to continue.

But the film also distances us from the lovers by using a narration. As a story-telling device, the narration is unnecessary. There is nothing that the narration tells us that cannot be or is not conveyed or shown — even that one moment of madness and surrender when Jeanne inexplicably falls in love with Bernard. Moreau is such a terrific actress that she renders the narration superfluous. However, the narration has a purpose. The narration gives voice and logic to feelings and in doing so forces us to critically look at what is happening.

Is her predicament typical of the wealthy class? The endless parties, the obsession with fashion and appearances, the shallowness, and the utter inability to understand one’s predicament? Jeanne moves from one lover to the other to amuse herself. She doesn’t love her husband but manages to feel a little jealous of her husband’s secretary, but I suspect it is more curiosity than jealousy. But the poor fellow is merely dull and faithful.

The Spaniard lover is too earnest to be taken seriously but she does take him seriously till Bernard comes along. There is nothing in the movie that suggests that she will find happiness or even anything in common with Bernard and yet, she leave her husband, child and house for him. Bernard is a new type for her; a serious student/scholar; poetic, idealist, and intelligent. Maybe she will find a new side to herself with him, maybe she won’t, but she has taken a chance and that alone is enough reason to cheer her — she has taken a new road. And as T S Eliot said, “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.

Let the journey begin.

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Posted in: Reviews