Friday, March 02, 2012


Jeanne is a bored wife and mother who lives out in the country. Henri, her husband, a newspaper publisher, is occupied with his job and benignly ignores her, so she takes frequent trips to Paris to stay with her cosmopolitan friend Maggie and while there, carries on a rather perfunctory affair with Raoul, a celebrity polo player. Henri doesn’t approve of her Paris friends, and one night, during a drunken row, he insists that she invite Maggie and Raoul to spend a night in the country with them. On the day of the visit, Jeanne's car breaks down and a handsome young man named Bernard helps her. At first she seems almost scornful of him, but when he agrees to drive her to her house, she warms up a bit. At dinner that night, Bernard is mostly an observer as the other four chat and bicker. Restless, Jeanne gets up in the middle of the night and goes for a moonlit walk, runs into Bernard, and they have a romantic episode that leads to canoodling in a canoe, splashing naked in a tub, and eventually having sex. The next morning, he impulsively asks her to leave with him, and she impulsively says yes, so they drive off, giving no explanations to anyone, into an uncertain future.

This film from early in director Louis Malle's career was an art-house hit in America mostly because of the scandalous nocturnal lovemaking of Jeanne (Jeanne Moreau) and Bernard (Jean-Marc Bory). Not only do we get a glimpse of Moreau's nipple, but later the camera remains on her face as Bory's head slides down her torso out of camera range, and her face registers non-exaggerated ecstasy. Nowadays, this would practically be rated PG-13, but still, there is a certain erotic frisson in the lush, romantic slowness of the entire episode. The ambiguous ending prefigures THE GRADUATE, as we see the dawning realization of what the two have done on their faces, and they're not quite smiling. The acting is fine and the photography of the nighttime escapade is atmospheric, if perhaps a bit too bright—a fault of the day-for-night shooting. Some fine dialogue: Henri, to Maggie about her promiscuous lifestyle: "You feel younger sleeping in some stranger's love nest or deathbed?"; Maggie: "I don't think about that—I just try not to clash with what's in style." [DVD]

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