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Une chambre en ville

Posted by martinteller on August 22, 2014

Nantes, 1955.  François Guilbaud (Richard Berry) is a metal worker, but he is part of an ongoing strike.  He boards with Mme. Langlois (Danielle Darrieux), a widow who is none too fond of him.  Langlois’s daughter Edith (Dominque Sanda) is recently married to Edmond Leroyer (Michel Piccoli), a television salesman.  But the marriage is already rocky, as Edmond is prone to wild mood swings, impotence and physical abuse.  François has a loving relationship with Violette (Fabienne Guyon), but when he encounters Edith on the street, they fall into bed together… and fall in love.  He doesn’t know yet that Violette is carrying his child.

This film uses the same gimmick as The Umbrellas of Cherbourg… every line of dialogue is sung.  I must say that, musically, I found it easier to get past the sung dialogue aspect here than I did with Umbrellas.  I think it’s because the music sounds more grounded and structured… it’s closer to what we think of as a traditional musical.  So maybe that’s just a thing I need if people are going to be singing.  The music is also, however, a bit dated.  80’s production values are so distinctive that when you hear a certain kind of drum or bass sound, it immediately puts you in that time… a problem when the setting is supposed to be 1955.  On the whole, though, I enjoyed the score more this time, even if wasn’t composed by the great Michael Legrand (on the other hand, just about any other Legrand score trumps this one, I just don’t care for the music in Umbrellas).

Still, I found it hard to gain entry to this film.  As it played, I felt more and more like I was watching it just to say I had done it rather than out of any interest.  It’s even more cynical than Model Shop, just a bummer of a movie with not enough to care about.  Michel Piccoli, looking like a deranged leprechaun, plays one of his most unsympathetic roles as an unhinged brute.  Dominique Sanda (who, of course, appears naked… that must be in her contract or something) is manipulative, self-centered and cold-hearted.  And Richard Berry is pretty much just a dick.  All Edith has to do is flash him and he hops into the sack with her, with no thought for his girlfriend.  I didn’t give a hoot about any of them, and what I really wanted was for Violette to get together with François’s nice friend Dambiel (Jean-François Stévenin).

But movies aren’t always what we want them to be.  This is a dark story, not a feelgood one.  But I felt like Demy wanted me to buy into this intense passion between François and Edith, wanted me to believe that theirs is a tragic love even though they’re both kinda jerks.  I didn’t buy it.  They weren’t flawed people, they were bad people (François more so… at least we can understand Edith given her crappy marriage).  And then there’s the backdrop of the workers’ strike, attempting to lend the film some sort of vague sociopolitical message, but one that carries no weight.  All it does is provide a narrative reason for the film’s climax.

The movie does have lovely visuals, again awash with vibrant colors.  And my initial boredom eventually gave way as the tale became more twisted and high-strung.  But the overall experience was generally either underwhelming or just unpleasant.  I would give Umbrellas a third chance.  I don’t know if I’d give this one a second.  Rating: Fair (64)


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