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With: Pierre Arditi, Sabine Azéma, André Dussollier, Fanny Ardant
Written by: Alain Resnais, based on a play by Henri Bernstein
Directed by: Alain Resnais
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 112
Date: 09/03/1986

Mélo (1986)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Words and Music

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Alain Resnais directed this quiet little mid-1980s masterpiece from a creaky, all-but-forgotten four-person stage drama from 1929, written by Henri Bernstein. But Resnais films it straight, with no irony or post-modern injections, giving the material respect and adoration.

It opens on a beautiful balcony, overlooking a city night sky. Three people finish up a nice dinner: Pierre Belcroix (Pierre Arditi) is a humble musician living with his wife Romaine (Sabine Azéma). They're entertaining Pierre's former classmate, Marcel Blanc (André Dussollier), who has gone on to musical fame and fortune. They talk and tell stories, and Sabine innocently flirts with Marcel. She visits him the next day to play music and they flirt some more. They end up having a passionate affair. But just as Sabine is about to leave her husband, he falls seriously ill and she feels obligated to stick around. Fanny Ardant plays Sabine's pretty cousin, who falls into a more traditional and caring female role, and is better suited for tending to Pierre's needs.

What's miraculous about Mélo is that the material never grows hysterical and feels blocked in or trapped by the stage. Resnais always knows how to place and move his camera to bring out the emotional center; the crystalline, colorful frame is as much a character as the actors. Moreover, these four skilled thespians all worked with Resnais many times (three of them appear in his newest film, Private Fears in Public Places) and created a high level of trust. More than once, Resnais creates drama simply by focusing on an actor's face during a monologue. Nitpickers might criticize the thinness of Ardant's character, but she serves the drama as well as any of the main characters. The title refers to "melodrama," or drama with music.

DVD Details: Kino Video, under their Kimstim label, has released four 1980s-era Resnais films, starting with the gorgeously restored Mélo. The others are: Life Is a Bed of Roses (1983), Love Unto Death (1984) and I Want to Go Home (1989). Each DVD includes a trailer, plus one featurette. The Mélo DVD comes with a video interview with producer Marin Karmitz.

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