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'Cet Amour-La'

Moreau dazzles in brilliant 'Cet Amour-La'

Friday, May 09, 2003

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Film Critic

"Cet Amour-La," is not a biopic of Marguerite Duras, who wrote the screenplay for "Hiroshima mon amour" (1959), but rather a kind of metaphysical meditation on the symbiotic synergy of writing and love.

This is good. "Hiroshima" was director Alain Resnais' landmark New Wave study of a French film actress and a Japanese architect who have a brief, troubled affair in postwar Hiroshima. Then and later, it was considered very important. But forgive me, fathers and mothers: I found it tedious the first time and unbearable the second, when I accompanied a girlfriend with the sinful ulterior motive of getting an invitation to her apartment afterward, which God punished me for by denying.


RATING: R in nature for adult themes

STARRING: Jeanne Moreau, Aymeric Demarigny

DIRECTOR: Josee Dayan


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Duras (1914-1996) was born and spent an impoverished childhood in what was then called French Indochina -- better known now as Vietnam. Her early works, in World War II days and the Jean-Paul Sartre circle, were on the order of John Steinbeck's social novels. She had more themes than "plots": memory, the interplay of reality and fantasy, explorations of how men and women relate to each other. But her prose grew more abstract as the heavy-drinking writer grew older and was wooed by daily letters from Yann Andrea. When he finally showed up in person on her doorstep in 1980, he stayed that night, and every subsequent night, for the last 16 tumultuous years of her life.

"Duras regarded herself as a part to be played," says film historian David Thomson, "like a Bette Davis hiding within a Gertrude Stein or Virginia Woolf."

Duras was 65 when she and Andrea met. He was 27. Jeanne Moreau is now 75.

They call her France's greatest living actress. Orson Welles, who directed her in "The Trial," "Falstaff" and "The Immortal Story," went further, calling her "the greatest actress in the world." Francois Truffaut, who made "Jules et Jim," one of the most gorgeous films of all time, said she was "the actress I rank highest -- with her, each scene is played as if it were her last."

Most great actors act primarily with those "windows to the soul" -- their eyes. Moreau acts uniquely more with her mouth, the superb lips, the subtle variations and degrees of her smile, the covering and uncovering of those front teeth with that most adorably erotic trait -- a gap!

It was once said of Audrey Hepburn that what lay beneath her superficial sweetness and goodness was real sweetness and goodness. Such is true of the good, sweet puppy-dog character of Yann Andrea, Duras' youthful muse, apprentice and two-fingered typist, who never felt the need to express what he was feeling -- "those things that go beyond words." He was the profound complement to Duras, who found her every feeling expressible, and was compelled to express it, in words.

Moreau is simply dazzling from beginning to end. Andrea is beautifully rendered by Aymeric Demarigny, who bears an eerie, vulnerable resemblance to John Lennon. There are no other characters of consequence, no mention of Duras' works and why she or they were significant. The harsh truth is that they weren't.

But then, as Duras' words and this lovely film evoke brilliantly: "Life never lives up to what you write."

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

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