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Mélo

France 1986
produced by
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

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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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.

Now truth 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.

 

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review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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