Marin Karmitz, Catherine Lapoujade (executive) for MK2 Productions, Films A2, Centre National de la Cinématographie (CNC)
directed by Alain Resnais
starring Sabine Azéma, Pierre Arditi, André Dussollier, Fanny Ardant, Jacques Dacqmine, Hubert Gignoux, Catherine Arditi
screenplay by Alain Resnais, based on the play by Henri Bernstein, music by Philippe-Gérard
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It all starts very innocently, with Pierre (Pierre Arditi) inviting his
old friend, concert violinist Marcel (André Dussollier) to dinner, and
introducing him to his wife Romaine (Sabine Azéma) at that occasion.
Pierre and Romaine urge Marcel to play their favourite piece, but he
refuses, but promises to Romaine to do so at a later occasion at his
place. Now his invitation was to include both her and Pierre, but she
understood it as a date. Romaine and Marcel soon take a liking to one
another, start going out together ... and fall in love before too long.
But as much as they might love each other, their affair is not as happy as
could be as Marcel never wanted to hurt his friend while Romaine is hit by
pangs of guilt. And yet, when Pierre falls ill, while Marcel's away on a
concert tour, she does little to help his cure, and the medication she's
giving him might even make him feel worse. Then Marcel returns from his
tour, and despite Pierre's condition, Romaine comes running to him,
leaving Pierre in the care of her cousin Christiane (Fanny Ardant), who
has always had tender feelings for Pierre. Marcel is shocked though that
she would leave her husband like that and sends Romaine away - but she
only returns home hours later, makes a big scene, runs off again and
throws herself into the river. But for neither Pierre nor Marcel the story
ends there ...
Above all this, Mélo proves the mastery of Alain
Resnais as a director: Basically, the source material he had to work with
isn't all that good, it's too wordy and a tad clichéed and predictable -
and yet, Resnais (and with him his first rate cast) makes the most out of
it, by going against melodrama conventions and making his movie not larger
than life but staying close with his ensemble, framing them in rather
intimate shots and long takes, all in very atmospheric sets that invoke
the era of the play (the 1920s) without drawing too much attention to
them. And instead of spelling everything out, many of the most dramatic
scenes in the film (like Romaine's suicide) are only hinted at, with
Resnais trusting the audience to make the right associations.
to be told, this might not be one of Alain Resnais' best - but with that
high a bar it's no shame to fail, and Mélo is still rather
fascinating in its own right.