YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Movie Review : 'Femmes': A Serious Look At Love

June 20, 1986|KEVIN THOMAS | Times Staff Writer

Christopher Frank's "Femmes de Personne" (at the Music Hall) couldn't be more French in regarding love with an all-consuming seriousness--and that's the film's problem.

It centers on a Paris divorcee (Marthe Keller), a radiologist with a small son (Karol Zuber), and three of her female colleagues. All of them are as beautiful and as chic as their wardrobes and apartments. Everyone, even the extras, is slim, poised, sophisticated and detached, just the way Parisians are supposed to be. Naturally, behind these lacquered facades, they are often scared and miserable, afraid of time passing; it's a state of mind that's downright obligatory in urbane French films of a certain level.

Keller is as successful in her profession as she is lonely in her personal life. Her friend (Caroline Cellier), another radiologist, has grown so bored with her handsome insurance-broker husband (Patrick Chesnais) that she perversely promotes an affair between him and the hospital's gorgeous young receptionist (Elisabeth Etienne). Meanwhile, Keller and Cellier's pretty blond assistant (Fanny Cottencon) is reeling from her lover's abrupt rejection.

All these problems are convincingly lifelike and truly painful for these women, but Frank does his people a disservice by taking their anguish--and himself--with an awesome solemnity that attains cosmic proportions (just as he did in his very similar 1982 debut film, "Josepha"). Frank is a veteran playwright, novelist and screenwriter, but he denies his characters any perspective. He creates intelligent, self-absorbed characters, almost hermetically sealed from the rest of the world. In doing so, he unintentionally undercuts sympathy for them--so great-looking are they and their environments--and so mundane seem their crises.

"Femmes de Personne" is as exquisitely crafted as its heroines' bone structures, but it lacks any edge, irony or, most important, humor. (Subtract those essential qualities from "Hannah and Her Sisters" and you'd end up with a "Femmes de Personnes.")

Keller's radiologist dominates, from the moment the picture opens with Keller's son getting up, making breakfast for himself and finding his mother in bed with a man whose name she can't remember and whose phone number she bluntly refuses.

Perhaps if her colleagues' stories seemed less contrived and more substantial, "Femmes de Personne" (Times-rated Mature for adult themes, some nudity) might have worked despite an aura of a despair that seems so unearned.

Frank's talented actresses are restricted by an all-pervasive glumness; so is Jean-Louis Trintignant as a married man Keller pursues. It engulfs even as dynamic an actor as Philippe Leotard, cast in an awkward and undeveloped role as Keller's gay pal. And not even one of Georges Delerue's sensitive scores can help much. The lesson here seems that Frank, who wrote the late Romy Schneider one of her best roles in "The Important Thing Is To Love," might be better off not trying to be his own director.


A European Classics release of a co-production of T. Films/F.R.3. Executive producer Alain Terzian. Writer-director Christopher Frank. Camera Jean Tournier. Music Georges Delerue. Film editor Nathalie Lafaurie. With Marthe Keller, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Caroline Cellier, Fanny Cottencon, Philippe Leotard, Patrick Chesnais, Elisabeth Etienne, Karol Zuber. In French, with English subtitles.

Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes.

Times-rated: Mature.

Los Angeles Times Articles