directed by Alain Resnais
starring Sabine Azéma, André Dussollier, Pierre Arditi
MVD, Arrow Academy
In 1920’s Paris, a famous concert violinist Marcel (Andre Dussollier) meets and falls in love with a stylish young flapper Romaine (Sabine Azéma). Too bad she’s already married to Pierre (Pierre Arditi) , an old friend of Marcel. Marcel is famous, Pierre leads an obscure orchestra which is perfectly fine for him, but perhaps not exciting enough for Romaine. Pierre falls ill, and Romaine may be poisoning him. After Marcel returns from a triumphant yet tedious concert tour, Romaine stoops to a new low by abandoning ill Pierre for an assignation. But she reconsiders the affair and takes a drastic step. Three years later, Pierre pays Marcel a visit, demanding the truth. Will the jealous and aggrieved Marcel pull off a convincing performance?
The title is a chic abbreviation for “Melodrama,” and there’s no shortage in this urbane period piece about a lovelorn musician enjoying an affair with the wife of his best friend. Director Alain Resnais makes no attempt to hide the theatricality of the 1929 Henry Bernstein stage play the film derives from. Resnais emphasized the theatrical trappings, going so far as to fade in and out of a shot of closed curtains between each ‘act’. In the opening scene, the stars are clearly painted on the sky, and in the night club scene multiple mirrors give a kaleidoscope effect. And if you don’t look closely to the box art, you will swear this must have been filmed in 1964 instead of 1986. And all the scenes until Romaine’s demise are clearly interiors purposely intended to look like stage sets.
The story offers plenty of food for thought about love and fidelity, but the nuances of each relationship are undermined by the often dry and detached script readings punctuated by moments of deliberate histrionic overkill. Many come from an all-too animated Sabine Azéma, playing the woman who easily spills into the role of unfaithful wife to a credulous man. The sets are limited but lovely, even if intentionally artificial like Romaine’s love. Nevertheless, Melo is a welcome return to Earth for an erstwhile pioneer of some of the opaquest French New Wave cinema. There’s a cunning subtlety here complete with a deconstructionist’s subtle irony. This a film lovers film, and the only special effects come from how scenes are lit and played.