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Before the Fall

If the film's focus is not immediately apparent—lost in a clutter of purposefully banal interactions—it may be that Assayas is treating us to a somewhat older cohort than in his earlier films. Mainly in their thirties, most of his characters are already burdened by history—emotionally tied to their ex-lovers or jointly owned apartments, worried about their career choices, and haunted by a sense of failure. The focal point is the group's senior member, a serious novelist named Adrien (François Cluzet); the protagonist is his admirer Gabriel (Mathieu Amalric), a would-be writer caught between his relationship with the warmly nostalgic Jenny (Jeanne Balibar) and a gorgeous, but manic, younger woman (Virginie Ledoyan).

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Autumn Tale
Written and directed by Eric Rohmer
An October Films release
Opening July 9

Late August, Early September
Written and directed by Olivier Assayas
A Zeitgeist Films release
At Film Forum, through July 20

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The boyish and slightly feral Amalric—who played a not dissimilar role several years ago in Arnaud Desplechin's My Sex Life...Or How I Got Into an Argument—is not always easy to read, but then all the characters lack definition. Or rather, they are defined only in relation to each other. Assayas is at his best with a close-up pan through the crowd at a smoky nightclub or choreographing the emotional complexity of a scene in which a gaggle of old friends reminisce. But too often, the movie sinks into an amorphous state of emotional torpor. Late August, Early September unfolds over the course of a year. Gabriel ends one relationship and embarks on another, gets (and quits) his first "real" job, and loses a friend to death. The movie exits leaving a trail of vignettes that seem to have been designed to show that life goes on. It's a pretty slight payoff for such a diffuse plot. In the end it seems to be the filmmaker, not Gabriel, who is working something out.

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