Saturday, January 31, 2009

Chaos Ensues

From time
to time, I'll
be excavat-
ing reviews that aren't otherwise available online.

Before I started freelancing for Amazon, I used to contribute customer reviews. In 2000, I reviewed Alice et Martin. Since then, the DVD has gone out of print (I've been writing for Amazon for 10 years now). On
the off-chance it disappears from the site, this review also lives here.

(André Téchiné, France, 1998, 120 mins.)

When I first read a description of this film—man falls for his
gay brother's female best friend, chaos ensues—I didn't think
it sounded too promising. Then I noticed who directed it, An-
dré Téchiné (Les Voleurs), and who co-wrote the screenplay,
Olivier Assayas (Irma Vep). I got more than I was expecting.

ly, there's
Martin (newcomer Alexis Loret), but that's not what it's really about.

Alice et Martin plays more like a modern-dress Crime and Punishment than some torrid French romance, because its true subjects are regret and redemption, but Téchiné doesn't reveal
until the end why Loret's Martin is so tortured. The 20-year-old
fashion plate seems to have everything going for him—like Bin-
oche's beautiful and devoted violin player Alice—but inside
he's so wracked with guilt, he suffers a breakdown.

The film cuts deep and the acting follows suit. At its worst, Al-
ice et Martin suffers from an excess of plot—it could be short-
er, it could drop a few extraneous details—but the unique struc-
ture serves the story well. The action starts in the recent past,
moves forward to the present, returns to the past again to show
why Martin acts the way he does (he's harboring a terrible sec-
ret), and then returns to the present by which point our Raskol-
nikov has figured out what he needs to do to put his soul at rest.

Some may find Alice et
Martin too slow and oth-
ers may find the acting too
flat—still others may prefer
a torrid French romance—
but fans of Binoche's subtle
work in films like Blue will
probably disagree. Loret,
who looks like Jeff Buckley,
whose version of Nina Sim-
one's "Lilac Wine" features
on the soundtrack, is a real
find. He's weird, hand-
some, and intense.

Special bonus: the always-dependable Mathieu Amalric
(Assayas' Late August, Early September) as Alice's friend,
and Martin's half-brother, Benjamin, through whom prod-
igal son Martin meets Alice, who helps him to become an
adult in ways his two sets of clueless parents never could.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Endnote: Slightly revised from the original posting. Click here for my review of Téchiné's The Witnesses. Images from the BBC (Binoche and Amalric), French Premiere (Loret, Binoche, and Téchiné on the set), and Time Out New York (British DVD cover).

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