Not on the LipsReviewed By Greg Muskewitz
Posted 04/18/04 21:09:00
(Worth A Look)
Based on a 1925 operetta by André Barde, Not on the Lips was originally made into a film in 1931 by Nicolas Evreinoff and Nicolas Rimsky. Those familiar with the New Wave master Alain Resnais know that he is not new to musicals, with Life Is a Bed of Roses and Same Old Song (a hybrid of a musical) more recently under his belt.The idea of a “whimsical” operetta about a re-married woman who finds out her husband is going into business with an American who turns out to be her ex-husband, when the current mari doesn’t know she was previously wed, isn’t something that sounds along the lines that the director of such cerebral films as Hiroshima, mon Amour, Last Year at Marienbad and La Guerre est Finie would make. But while labeling Resnais as soft in his age isn’t appropriately fitting either, despite the more playfulness of his last few films, such an expectation of whim here wouldn’t be giving him his due. It becomes quickly apparent (quickly, because the film takes no time in rapidly setting up the scenario, and much so without across the board introductions) that the operetta is a genuine reflection on the deceptiveness — albeit playful deceptiveness — of the human condition that Resnais has so creatively carved out in his long-spanning oeuvre. Just as fast as the introduction to unseen characters and plot motive, is the rate at which the songs are sung, again to the same degree as dropping pieces of information at a fast pace.
As it turns out, Gilberte Valandray (Sabine Azéma) is married to a man who believes in a scientifically-proven theory (his own) of first marriage lasting based on the kiss of two virgin lips together, and that no matter what separation may come between them at any given time, those two lovers are destined to reunite. And while Gilberte has a long line of potential lovers swooning to sweep her away, it’s a mere game to her as she is most happy with her husband (Pierre Arditi). When she learns that her husband is going into business with the American she was once married to (you see, they were married in the States, and if it was not registered with the French Consul, it doesn’t become officially recognized in France) and that he is coming to stay with them, she fears that if her husband finds out, their marriage will end.
Gilberte enlists the help of her spinster sister (Isabelle Nanty) to ambush her ex, played by the Frenchman Lambert Wilson doing a nasally monotone and phonetic pronunciation of the French language, the latter two of whom have a long-standing feud. The duplicity of games and feelings continues to multiply into the field of unrequited characters with Wilson trying to woo back Azéma, Audrey Tautou falling for Jalil Lespert, a bachelor who is madly pursuing Azéma, and Nanty’s requested assistance to Tautou.
With the territory of duplicitous and hidden agendas, to the characters at least, there are a myriad of confused signals and comedies of error within their actions, but the feeling of comedy itself is always being manipulated to give motion to the magnetic pawns as they attract to or repel away from one another. (To suggest that the comedy was anything less than a manipulation would be to undermine the dualities that Resnais so adeptly incorporates into his characters.) As the initial action of development is attributed to the theory of on-the-lips kissing, or what it signifies, it too gets its mileage as an axiom that many of the characters come to adopt as an attainment for them to get what they wanted. (In the midst of trying to win back Gilberte, the American Eric Thomson fends off seduction from a pack of young socialites: “Just a kiss/Just a kiss/Just a kiss/Not on the lips/Just a kiss/Just a kiss/Just a kiss/My stomach flips/Just a kiss/Just a kiss/Just a kiss/Hands off my hips.”) And as it appears (without specifying exacts), the philosophy holds more than water in its formal application.
The music very much has the authenticity of being a product — in the form of a remake — of its time, the Thirties, and Resnais lavishly captures the production values down to the origins of its original theatrical context (the closing curtain call, replete with a number thanking the audience for having not yet left is a clever hoot). The images are iridescently filmed by Renato Berta, lush with bright hues and textures, using a filter to literally purport a haloed glow from people and objects alike. The fanciness of the cinematography strictly remains in the luster of the image, not carrying on in a flashy or overly ornamented style as the modern musicals (i.e., Chicago, Moulin Rouge) would have it, nor does the editing seek to mince the performance into a Fosse-like rapid cutting of objects. Throughout his expansive career, despite being free enough pay homage, such as to Dennis Potter in Same Old Song, Resnais is an influencer, not the influenced, and even in making a remake he turns it into his own. Not on the Lips is not merely a frolicsome operetta, it’s a complicated meditation on the serpentine psychology of loving another just by being human. That it’s deviously funny and sweetly romantic with clever, toe-tapping song (“It’s the same old song/You’ve got it all wrong”), makes the experience pleasurable on so many different levels. With Daniel Prévost and Darry Cowl.[Absolutely to be seen.]
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