[Film Review] The Lovers (1958)

The Lovers poster

English Title: The Lovers
Original Title: Les amants
Year: 1958
Country: France
Language: French
Genre: Drama, Romance
Director: Louis Malle
Writer: Louise de Vilmorin
based on the novel POINT DE LENDEMAIN by Dominique Vivant
Music: Johannes Brahms
Cinematography: Henri Decaë
Jeanne Moreau
Jean-Marc Bory
Alain Cuny
Judith Magre
José Luis de Vilallonga
Gaston Modot
Michèle Girardon
Rating: 7.5/10

The Lovers 1958

One of Louis Malle’s sterling juvenilia made at the age of 25, his second feature film after ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS (also stars Ms. Moreau), released the same year in 1958. THE LOVERS notches up the Special Jury Prize in Venice Film Festival and puts his leading lady’s name on the French cinematic map, who would become a prominent face of the forthcoming NOUVEAU VAGUE.

In THE LOVERS, Moreau plays Jeanne, the trophy wife of Henri Tournier (Cuny), a newspaper owner, they live in a countryside mansion near Dijon with a young daughter. After 8 years, their conjugal bond is strained because Henri habitually neglects her and sinks his teeth into work, to keep herself busy, Jeanne often commutes between home and Paris, where she stays with her childhood friend Maggy (Magre, who plays up the stuck-up Parisienne type), and strikes up an affair with a Spanish aristocrat, the polo-playing Raoul (de Vulallonga), who is smitten with her.

But, that cannot slake Jeanne’s cosmic bourgeois ennui, she has a perfect life but has nothing else to focus on outside her dead-end marriage and genteel fling, domestic discord ratchets up when Henri becomes more and more passive-aggressive in the manner of treating her, carps about her over-frequent excursions to Paris, and demands her to host a dinner party in their home with Maggy and Raoul invited, because the latter, is a man he has yet met, but whom his wife cannot praise enough.

En route from Paris to home on the day of the dinner party, Jeanne’s car breaks down and she hitchhikes with a passing stranger Bernard (Bory), a young and brusque archeologist, who doesn’t like speeding and has an errand to run before driving her to home, by which time, both her guests have already arrived. Out of courtesy, Henri invites Bernard to stay overnight, and the dinner, is as tedious as Jeanne has envisioned, Henri and Raoul’s men’s talk has worn thin quickly (noticeably, Bernard remains entirely silent during the dinner conversation in his formality). But under the magic spell of the moonlight, during an unplanned saunter nearby the mansion with Bernard, Jeanne’s passion has been invigorated, their nocturnal foreplay has been tantalizingly relayed from woods (the touch of hands), to the boat (the kiss) floating on a quaint brook, finally to her bedroom, accompanied by Brahm’s thematic music, Malle majestically hones the romantic atmosphere to consummate the anonymity of eroticism – two strangers, tossed together solely by their physical entanglement and declare “love” against the whole established world, what a cathartic occasion and at the same time, how desperate and entrapped a woman can be, intuits her knight-in-shining-armour like that? A slap on the face of bourgeois ennui, but also, Malle leaves his doubt near the end (through the movie’s lucid and consistent third-person voice-over), happily-ever-after may not await this newly-paired lovers, they will face the music, one day but not today, la fin.

Jeanne Moreau proffers a more relatable enactment than Catherine Deneuve in Luis Buñuel’s BELLE DE JOUR (1967), as a woman lost in her aimlessness borne out of the encroaching contentment in her material lives, and tries to locate an outlet by liberating her sexual prowess, here, Jeanne’s endeavor is comparatively more out-of-the-blue than shocking, and it is very clear, Bernard is just a romantic foil cropping up in the right time, right place (like the intruded bird during their dinner), his individuality never counts in Jeanne’s yearning of running away and starting anew, except that, he can make her laugh, potently testified by her hysterical jag of guffaw (a metaphor of potency which can penetrate her state of normalcy). THE LOVERS, is a handsome black-and-white oldie permeated with Gallo-frame-of-mind and pristine coutures, slightly teeters on naïve escapism, but enormously engrossing to behold like a dream you don’t want it to end.

referential points: ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS (1958, 8.4/10); BELLE DE JOUR (1967, 7.9/10).

Oscar 1958  The Lovers


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