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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"My wife is in a cult. The cult of the seventh art. The great cinematic family."
DVD ReviewWe watch movies and of course we know that it's all a fake—those are just actors up there, and these events aren't happening before our very eyes. But our suspension of disbelief can be so powerful—we so want to believe, we want to be transported—that we're all willing to forget that just a few feet out of the camera's range, technicians are laying cable and focusing lights, divas are having tantrums in their trailers, P.A.s are scarfing down as much as they can at the crafts services table. But hey, it's a movie, right? These people are in the illusion business.
But what if your spouse was an active participant in that illusion? What if he or she fell in love with other people, in public, for a living? That's the conundrum facing the hero of this movie, a sweet and smart romantic comedy from France, a story that asks us to blur the line between illusion and reality.
Yvan Attal wrote, directed, and stars as a Parisian sportswriter married to Charlotte, one of France's biggest movie stars. Charlotte is played by Attal's off-screen wife, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and in the film she cannot walk down the street without being asked to sign an autograph or pose for a picture with some of her legions of adoring fans. Yvan seems fine with this until an ex-boyfriend of his sister's plants the seeds of jealousy: just what happens with Charlotte and her dangerously handsome co-stars?
Charlotte is off to London to star with the smoldering Terence Stamp in a new film, and Yvan works himself up into a froth, determined to put a stop to the romance between the co-stars that exists only in his imagination. The film charts the ups and downs of their marriage during the course of Charlotte's shoot, and Attal, even when his ginning up seemingly unfounded fears about his wife, is enormously good company for the length of the story.
It's very much and self-consciously a genre picture, which brings with it many rewards—it's always fun to see a tried-and-true formula reworked successfully, and at its best, the film is reminiscent of some of the great films of its kind. Yvan as a sportswriter may immediately put you in mind of Spencer Tracy in Woman of the Year, for instance, and its comforting to be in good hands on this sort of familiar territory. The genre conventions serve Attal well as an actor operating here as a first-time director—there's little opportunity, thankfully, for indulgent master thespian moments, and the story keeps humming along nicely. The movie also bears a strong resemblance to a stage play, Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing, another story of a writer (in that instance, a playwright) married to an actress, fearful that his wife's onstage life is spilling over to her time in the wings.
We're asked deliberately to confuse life on screen with life off of it, as Gainsbourg and Attal are not only married in real life, but play characters whose first names are the same as their own. Are they like that off the set? Is this how their marriage goes? But there's certainly a layer of this that's lost on those of us who aren't intimately familiar with all the leading lights of current French cinema. I gather that Gainsbourg's performance is closely analogous to that of Julia Roberts in Notting Hill, but for most U.S. audience members Charlotte Gainsbourg is at best a somewhat familiar and very talented French actress, not a superstar splashed across tabloid headlines. Similarly, there's a scene in a restaurant peppered with (we are told) many of the biggest stars of French cinema—it's a visual joke largely lost on those of us beyond the Gallic border.
Some of the other aspects of Attal's filmmaking can be more readily appreciated, though, like his use of music—we know we're on firm ground from the opening credits, as Ella Fitzgerald sings Lullaby of Birdland, and every time Yvan pops back over to the U.K. to check up on Charlotte, the soundtrack blares The Clash's London Calling. (R.I.P., Joe Strummer.) It's just that sort of bilingual sensibility and fun with filmmaking conventions that make this movie such enormous fun.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: Some grain and debris are evident, but color saturation is generally strong, and black levels look fine throughout. Attal favors zoom shots and lots of long takes with the Steadicam, which do well to present a certain kind of reality, but on your television especially can be a little nauseous.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: The stereo track is pretty clean, though ambient noise on some of the Parisian locations is occasionally far too high. This seems to have necessitated a fair amount of looping, which is unfortunate; but the track is nicely balanced and offers only occasional distractions.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring Crush, Talk To Her, The Lady and the Duke, Va savoir, Son of the Bride, Thirteen Conversations About One Thing
4 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Yvan Attal
Extras Review: Attal's subtitled French-language commentary track is a thorough and entertaining one—he's charmingly self-effacing, almost eager to point out small filmmaking gaffes like the shadow of a boom in one shot, or the protruding lavalier microphone on his sweater in another. He's especially gracious to his fellow actors, and isn't at all defensive about his own work as a writer; he says that when shooting scenes that he felt weren't written especially well, he encouraged the cast to improvise. He also spends a good amount of time defending his love of zoom shots, a passion not shared, apparently, by many members of his crew.
The only quibble with the track is that it makes reference to DVD supplements nowhere to be found on this disc—perhaps they appear on the version released in France, but not in Region 1? Whatever the case, it's a small disappointment not to see some of the deleted scenes he references, or the short film he made five years previously that served as the launching point for this feature.
The accompanying making-of documentary (16m:26s) emphasizes the peculiarity of making this movie about making a movie about making a movie. There's not a whole lot of information here, though Attal and Gainsbourg are clearly pros at this sort of thing. The four deleted scenes are largely baffling, though one functions almost as a gag reel, with Attal continuing to break himself up while feeding lines to the cab driver with whom he's playing the scene. A generous supply of trailers round out the package of extras.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsOne of my friends, after a bad run, wisely vowed not to date any more actresses, otherwise known as (in his words) "women with problems." So if you've been down that romantic road, you probably know what he's talking about; even if you haven't, it's hard not to be enchanted by this clever and warm movie.
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