With "L'Annee des Meduses" (opening Wednesday at the Fine Arts) French film maker Christopher Frank has finally got it right. In "Josepha" and "Femmes de Personne," his previous films as a director, the veteran screenwriter and novelist treated love with such an all-consuming seriousness that they were hopelessly glum. Frank still views passion as potentially deadly but now his touch is lighter and more ironic, and as a result, "L'Annee des Meduses," which he adapted from his own novel, has much more meaning and impact than its predecessors.
The title translates as "The Year of the Jellyfish," and refers to a summer in which a Riviera beach resort suffered an invasion of the creatures whose sting can be severe enough to leave a scar--or worse. The same can be said for the film's gorgeous heroine Chris (Valerie Kaprisky), an 18-year-old femme fatale. (Happily, Kaprisky has learned to act since she was Richard Gere's leading lady in "Breathless.")
As in "Femmes de Personne," this film takes place in settings of faultless taste populated virtually exclusively with people of relentless chic and trimness. It would be hard to imagine films more sophisticated or French than those of Frank.
Chris revels in the power of her sexuality, but an incident of two summers before, more devastating than she realizes, has left her without any sense of right or wrong in an environment dedicated solely to the pursuit of pleasure. Chris has a beautiful young mother, Claude (Caroline Cellier), who commences an affair with Romain (Bernard Giraudeau), a handsome pimp and all-around adventurer. Claude and Romain, however, are adults and conduct themselves accordingly.
Claude has no desire to hurt her husband (Pierre Vaneck), stuck so much of the time in Paris with his work. In her, Romain finds a mature charm and genuine sweetness he finds lacking in the pretty girls he recruits on the beach with such ease. Claude and Romain are past masters in the game of love and instinctively obey its rules--rules that for Chris simply do not exist. Chris is a seductress without any regard whatsoever for the consequences of her actions, and, when spurned, can turn dangerous. Yet she has an easy relationship with her mother, who is as blind to her true nature as Romain is not.
Frank is an astute observer of behavior, and "L'Annee des Meduses" has an acute sense of nuance and atmosphere. You can all but feel its hot sun, and the casual elegance of a pastelled resort hotel is precisely the right context for all that happens there. "L'Annee des Meduses" is a film without a false move.
Frank is too wise to ask us to like any of these rather unsympathetic types who nevertheless inspire respect because they ask no pity for themselves. You can feel for Claude, so exquisitely played by Cellier, who was one of the stars of "Femmes de Personne" and you can feel for Jacques Perrin's Vic, the silver-haired family friend who for a crucial period found Chris so irresistible. What you may have trouble understanding is how these people can bear the indolence of their existence--but then that's part of the film's point, which is to depict a boredom so pervasive that its pampered victims are scarcely aware that they've succumbed to it.
'L'ANNEE DES MEDUSES' ('THE YEAR OF THE JELLYFISH')
A European Classics release of a co-production of T Films/FR3/Parafrance. Producer Alain Terzian. Writer-director Christopher Frank. Based on his own novel. Camera Renato Berta. Music Alain Wisniak. Art director Jean-Jacques Caziot. Costumes Yvette Frank. Film editor Nathalie Lafaurie. With Valerie Kaprisky, Bernard Giraudeau, Caroline Cellier, Jacques Perrin, Pierre Vaneck, Antoine Nikola, Barbara Nielsen. In French, with English subtitles.
Running time: 1 hour, 59 minutes.