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'My Wife Is An Actress'

Male hysteria is explored in 'My Wife Is An Actress'

Friday, September 13, 2002

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Film Critic

"My Wife Is an Actress."

Yes, well, so is Yvan's. But he can't handle it as well. That may or may not be because he's a sports writer. In any case, the great yellow beast of jalousie is eating the heart out of this guy, who should be happy that he's not only married to but also wildly in love with Charlotte, the hottest movie star in Paris. What's driving him crazy is that everybody else -- including her new/old British leading man, Terence Stamp -- is wildly in love with her, too.

 
 
'MY WIFE IS AN ACTRESS'

RATING: R for sexual themes and nudity

STARRING: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Yvan Attal, Terence Stamp

DIRECTOR: Yvan Attal

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It's la comedie screwball, starring the writer-director himself, Yvan Attal, and his real-life femme, Charlotte Gainsbourg, using their real first names and presumably elements of their own real marriage.

At the heart of the reel marriage is what the director calls a "particularly male form of hysteria" -- obsessive doubts about her fidelity. The constant aggravation of everyone asking him how it feels to watch his wife sleeping around prompts him to keep devising sneaky ways of checking up on her. The Big (Off-)Screen Test takes the form of suave, silver-tongued John during a cross-Channel shoot in London. His seductive wooing is a many-splendored 24-7 thing, regardless of whether the camera's on or off.

The casting of Terence Stamp in that role is the film's most inspired touch, for Stamp is a perfectly smooth, wonderfully jaded contrast to Yvan's jittery insecurities.

There's a second, completely unrelated inspiration in the subplot: the ongoing, raging battle between Yvan's sister and brother-in-law (Noemie Lvovsky and Laurent Bateau) over whether to have their not-yet-born son circumcised. These two frumpy, dumpy characters provide unexpected charm: At least they have something worth fighting about!

"How do you feel about co-starring with John?" the reporters ask Charlotte over and over.

"I'm very excited about it," she replies a hundred times -- with the exact same tone of real or feigned sincerity.

Lecherous John, meanwhile, is unfazed when Charlotte declines his advances. He'll just ask her dresser out, instead -- and then change his mind and leave the woman standing there, agape, after she announces her availability.

The best scene in "My Wife Is an Actress" comes after mild-mannered Charlotte's last-minute rebellion against a nude scene. Why does SHE have to be the only one without clothes? Just to appease the director's and everyone else's voyeurism? Why doesn't everybody else have to be naked, too?

Fair is fair. So everybody else is sent to work in his birthday suit that morning -- precisely the morning Yvan picks to visit her on the set.

Yvan's sensitivity -- or desensitivity -- training also extends to his taking a drama class for psychotherapy, in-between commuting between Paris and London to spy on his super-cool wife. If only he were as adorable as she; or even as faux-adorable as John. The problem is, Yvan is a borderline boor, and borderline boring after 90 minutes.

That's the danger of attempting the Woody Allen thing -- write, direct and act the schlep all at the same time. Not that Attal fails. His hip, black comedy succeeds well enough to merit a viewing, at least to find out how the circumcision, if not the marriage, turns out.

Barry Paris can be reached at 412-263-3859.

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