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'Alice and Martin'

Love conquers: Binoche is the saving grace of 'Alice and Martin'

Friday, September 15, 2000

By Bob Hoover, Post-Gazette Book Editor

Style matters, as the French know. Par example, they can take a simple soap-opera story of love and guilt and dress it up to make a stunningly beautiful and, at times, affecting film.

'Alice And Martin'

RATING: R for sex and language.

STARRING: Juliette Binoche and Alexis Loret.

DIRECTOR: Andre Techine

CRITIC'S CALL: 3 stars


It helps, of course, to have the talented Juliette Binoche. She is the Alice in "Alice and Martin," a fierce, sensible woman who does what she has to do for the man she loves. Her performance in what might have been a thankless role is a gem.

Martin is a youthful Alexis Loret, who is clearly much younger than Binoche, but has longer lashes. He also has a Gallic pout that would put Brigitte Bardot to shame. Frequently, that's the extent of his acting range.

But, no matter. Directed by Andre Techine, the movie is awash in breathtaking images from sun-blasted Spanish beaches to the rich, dark hues of a Paris bistro at night.

Techine has technique, whether shooting tense close-ups or using hand-held cameras to track his actors on the streets of Paris. Of course, he has beautiful scenery to work with as the action moves from the French capital to the Alhambra in Granada to a charming town in the south of France.

Our plot, however, lacks the texture of its various settings. It boils down to a guilt-stricken Martin turning into a psychotic vegetable when Alice tells him she's pregnant and how Alice's devotion brings him through the crisis.

He's guilty because he believes he killed his father and was not brought to answer for it. After the death, Martin flees to Paris after a pitiful, remorseful few weeks hiding out in a leaky lean-to, to seek shelter with his half-brother, Benjamin.

Sharing the gay Ben's flat is Alice, a struggling violinist in a tango orchestra. Martin, who improbably is selected off the street to become an Armani model (here's where that pout pays off), is smitten with Alice.

Even more improbably, she falls for him. Lucky for Martin. When he goes catatonic, Alice is strong enough to shoulder the burden, which includes getting him into a mental hospital and dealing with his hard, bitter family.

She pays for all of this by playing her violin at weddings, further proof that she's a candidate for sainthood.

Binoche is completely believable, moving with assurance from her tough, independent persona to a devoted lover who stands by her man, irregardless of the fact that the guy is pretty much a cipher.

"We need to find the courage to be happy" is her mantra.

No bravery is required to enjoy the visual treats and Binoche's acting in "Alice and Martin." It's playing at the Manor Theater in Squirrel Hill.

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