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MOVIE REVIEW : Tanner Delineates Obsessive Love in 'Flame'

July 07, 1989|KEVIN THOMAS | Times Staff Writer

There could scarcely be a more honest or credible delineation of the potential for obsessive love than Alain Tanner's "A Flame in My Heart" (at the Nuart through Thursday).

Its story, which the Swiss director adapted from a script by the film's star, Myriam Mezieres, is simplicity itself. An actress named Mercedes (Mezieres), in fleeing from her obsessed lover, Johnny (Aziz Kabouche), becomes an obsessive lover herself.

Tanner and Mezieres, through the relationship the actress has with two very different men, have created a film of considerable complexity, involving issues of culture and class as well as sex and politics. On one level, "A Flame in My Heart" verges on a parody of the foreign film, with grainy high-contrast black-and-white cinematography, Bach on the sound track, and a sultry, uninhibited star whose sexual forays border on the hardcore.

Yet, the film's solemnity is subtly deceiving. While Tanner has the utmost compassion for the intensely theatrical Mercedes and her men, he is aware that there is an absurdity in grand passion that can seem so ridiculous as to be funny.

Significantly, Mercedes is rehearsing the farewell scene from Racine's "Berenice," telling her beloved Titus she cannot bear to be away from him for so much as an hour. No sooner does Mercedes wrest herself from Johnny than she picks up a pleasant-looking, well-groomed young man, Pierre (Benoit Regent), a successful journalist specializing in politics and social issues.

In an instant, Mercedes leaps from one stormy romance to another; only this time it's she who is stirring things up. Two days into their affair she tells Pierre how wonderful it is that a couple she knows have never been apart in their entire 25 years together.

Mercedes and Pierre continually define each other. Mercedes sees herself, as an actress, as "burning" from within while she sees the journalist Pierre as eternal outsider. Mercedes is a constant, admirable challenge to Pierre. To her, reportage is no more than a mixture of "advertising and fear," and there's no real difference between performing Racine and stripping.

Yet there's no balance in her, as there is in the loving yet-disciplined Pierre. Her all-consuming passion for him is all that matters to her--so what if it interferes with his work as well as hers?

The combination of Tanner's control and detachment and Mezieres' fire and abandon is what makes "A Flame in My Heart" so compelling. No conventional beauty but a highly sensual woman with a Gloria Grahame mouth and a statuesque figure, Mezieres' Mercedes emerges finally as more courageous than foolish. She is dangerous in her emotional volatility but undeniably heroic in her resolutely uncompromising, self-aware and ultimately self-liberating spirit.

Regent's man of reason is likable, intelligent--and just a bit prim in the set of his mouth. Kabouche carries on like a bantam rooster, as vulnerable as he is proud. "A Flame in My Heart" (Times-rated Mature for adult themes and situations) is another masterful work from the director of such films as "La Salamandre," "The Middle of the World" and "Jonah, Who Will Be 20 in the Year 2000."

"A FLAME IN MY HEART"

A Roxie release of a Franco-Swiss co-production. Producer Pualo Branco. Director Alain Tanner. Screenplay Myriam Mezieres; adaptation and dialogue by Tanner. Camera Acacio de Almeida. Music Sonata No.1 in G Minor, Partita No., 2 in D Minor for solo violin by J.S. Bach; performed by Neill Gotkovsky. Film editor Laurent Uhler. With Myriam Mezieres, Aziz Kabouche, Benoit Regent, Biana, Jean-Yves Berthelot, Andre Marcon, Anne Rucki, Jean-Gabiriel Berthelot, Andre Marcon, Anne Rucki, Jean-Gabriel Nordmann. In French, with English subtitles.

Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

Times-rated: Mature

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