Thursday, May 20, 2010

Classic Rewind: The Lovers (aka Les Amants) (1958)

A firecracker of controversy upon its release, Louis Malle's The Lovers ('58) would appear tamely suggestive as viewed by modern audiences, but its stark and explicit depiction of a woman's liberation amidst bourgeois tedium and alienation sent more than few ruffles around markets both foreign and domestic.

Though not necessarily associated with the heavyweight Cashiers du cinéma of the French New Wave or the movement in general, certainly Malle and his sophomore effort, The Lovers, has the fingerprints of a seminal work in subject matter and visual composition, if not in form and structure.

Henri Decaë, a renowned cinematographer who frequently worked with Jean-Pierre Melville (Les enfants terribles, Le samourai) and René Clément (Purple Noon), brings a lush, dreamy quality to his black-and-white widescreen images, alluding to the soon-to-be visual masterstrokes of Francois Truffaut's Jules and Jim ('62), shot by Raoul Coutard.

Both on the verge of stardom and on becoming the female face and voice of this new cinematic movement, Jeanne Moreau (who had just worked with Malle on his debut, Elevator to the Gallows) takes this portrait of a neglected and imprisoned bourgeois housewife caught between two loveless relationships and runs with it, leaving a mess of admirers behind here both on and off the screen.

In her character's newly rediscovered passion that erupts in the final act like an erotic fantasy, the film swells with passion and social emancipation as the strings of Brahms refuse to cease in the background.

The fact that her new object of desire is an adamantly iconoclastic romancer who recites poetry and admires the moonlight (in direct contrast to her husband) clearly establishes the revolution at play, both within and around the world of The Lovers. [A-]

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