A veteran behind the camera, Claude Sautet shows as sure a hand as ever on Nelly And Mr Arnaud. Trevor Johnston meets one of France’s greatest filmmakers.
At 72. Claude Sautet has been in and around the French film industry for more than four decades. He shot his first short way before the Nouvelle Vague had even been thought of. made his name as ‘un scripte docteur' for the likes of Georges Franju on liver ll’ir/mul A Face. turned out a corrple of gangster movies in the ()()s. and suddenly burst onto the international scene with Les C/mses De La We in 1969. Attentive. insightful studies ofthe French bourgeoisie‘s lives and loves followed throughout the next couple of decades. tuost notably 1972‘s Yves Montand/Romy Schneider affair ('v’sur xllltl Rosalie and Une Hlxlnlr'r' Simple. which put a Best Foreign Filru ()scar on his mantelpiece.
Consistent acclaim followed him in France. although he has tended to be taken for granted. possibly for the same reason few of his earlier films made it into British distribution. Never regarded as a mould-lucaker in the Godard or Chabrol manner. the largely realist and humanist concerns of his work proved rather unfashiormhle until the advent of the 90s. when most ofthe auteurs of old were dead or creatively senile. By then. a film like Ull ('or'ur lz'n Hirer could finally be appreciated for what it was -— an exquisitely modulated story of tangled relationships assembled and performed with self- effacing mastery.
Yet if the realisation of Sautct's true worth as a
- filmmaker came late. his new offering the affecting I and beautifully poised .\’i'l/_v .Iiml .llr .‘ll'lltllltl will certainly sustain the rrrn on his critical stock.
(‘onstructed around mar‘vellously attuned
contributions from limmanuelle Beart. as a crisis-hit ! twentysomething. and a brilliant Michel Serrault as a l distinguished former judge realising only too late the passion he‘s long removed from his life. it's l compelling vieyy ing despite the ostensibly mundane I subject matter. and a virtual masterclass in celluloid character development to boot.
‘Film is about the present and the uncertainty of the present.' reflects the director. \y lute-haired. fastidious in his answers and appearance. \ery old school Gallic. ‘l’or a film to cast its spell. you must never , know yy hat the other character is going to say. Such continuing uncertainty is \\ hat attracts the audience and it’s also what forms our attractions and affections
Nelly And Mr Arnaud: ‘exquisitely modulated story of tangled relationships’
in real life. The filmmaker‘s job is to recreate that frisson through a set of unified characters.
‘ln this case. Monsieur Arnaud is not autobiographical. which a lot of people seem to assume. bill I must say I have known a lot of Arnaud.s in my tirue. They've made their money. they have their books. they live in their fortresses and. in the end. they‘re bored almost to death. I look at Arnaud and I see someone whose misanthropy and misogyny has eventually put him in a critical kind of isolation. but who. through this new relationship. suddenly finds himself desperately trying to claw back all the things he‘s missed in life. Basically. we started out with the image of an older man. a rmrch younger woman. a cafe. a couple of espressos and worked out from there.‘
Nelly .‘llHl .llr xll'lltllld opens it! lllt’ (ilasgow I’ll/Ii Theatre on Fri /2.
Birds of a feather
It’s nothing usual for the American film industry to take a French movie and remake it for English-speaking audiences. Nikita provided the basis for action thriller The Assassin and Trois Hammes Et Un Coalfin had all the 3 ingredients for a box-office hit when turned into Three Men And A Baby. Eyebrows must have been raised, however, when veteran director Mike Nichols targetted 1978 gay comedy La Cage Aux Folles for the Hollywood makeover. f
Robin Williams ruffles feathers in The Birdcage
‘It’s very appropriate to make it now — and in this country,’ says Robin Williams, the star of The Birdcage, the result of Nichols’ endeavours. ‘lt’s one of the great comic plots, containing a wonderful perspective for today.’ And, ’ indeed, the new film does ruffle a few 5 of conservative America’s feathers.
The story is pretty much the same as the original. Armand (Williams) and Albert (Nathan Lane) are a gay couple who have raised Armand’s son into a mature, young man who now decides the time is right to get married. Problems arise, however, when the future in-Iaws - a right-wing senator (Gene Hackman) and his wife (Dianne Weist) — come round for dinner. Should j Armand and Albert bow down to the hypocrisy of others and cover up their
side to Williams’s comic talents. ‘I wanted to play Armand because it gave me an opportunity to portray a very dry type of comedy versus being outrageous,’ the actor explains. ‘It was interesting because it’s restrained and reactive . . . finding different layers of behaviour.
‘Armand and Albert don’t live in a separate world. They’re a couple and they have the same dynamics as any couple. It may not go with what was initially thought of as a nuclear family, but there are a lot of families like this, and they all share the same kinds of l problems trying to get through life.’ (Alan Morrison)
The Birdcage opens on Fri 26 Apr. Special previews for List readers take place at the UCI Blydebank and 00/ Edinburgh on Thurs 18. See
The Birdcage also shows a different ; advertisement for ticket details.
The List 5- l 8 Apr l99619