Love on the Run
Patrice Chéreau's Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train is a raritya near perfect match of feeling and form wedded by an intellect that's both caustic and compassionate. Chéreau, one of the great theater and opera directors of our time, relishes the aspects of film that distinguish it from the stagethe close-up, the moving camera, and the cut. He deploys them not only to heighten what's happening in the narrative, but for the excitement they generate in the abstract. Those Who Love Me has a superabundance of plot, characters, and relationships, but even when you lose track of who's done what to whom, you can feel the film the way you feel a piece of music. It's a roller-coaster ride for cinephiles with a taste for grand opera.
About a dozen lovers, friends, and students of a famous artist travel from Paris to his hometown of Limoges for his funeral. Limoges, a bastion of bourgeois complacency, boasts the largest cemetery in Europe; the 185,000 dead exceed the live population of the town by 40,000. What better setting for a film that's about how mortality conditions desire? But Those Who Love Me is not a Kane-like portrait of a dead man; it focuses on the mourners, thrown into crisis by the loss of a father figure who seems to have held them in thrall by making them compete for his affection.
The desire released by the death of this mythic figure is mostly male and homoerotic. Chéreau has made a gay, contemporary Rules of the Game (although you wouldn't know that from the poster, which shows what seems to be two women in a hot embrace, but in fact portrays a woman and a transvestite having a heart-to-heart talk). The film's governing conscience is François (Pascal Greggory), who may have loved the dead man more than did anyone else but who also has a steady boyfriend, Louis (Bruno Todeschini), and a secret lover, Bruno (Sylvain Jacques), an exquisite, fragile boy who hangs out in railroad stations picking up tricks. Louis and Bruno are seized by an attack of love at first sight in the lavatory of the train on the way to the funeral. Louis confesses to François that he's in love with another, and François retaliates by telling him that Bruno was his lover for a year and that Bruno is HIV-positive.
The scene is extraordinary for its mix of hilarity and anguish, and because the three men are so beautiful it almost hurts to look at them. There's another scene much later in the film involving the transvestite (Vincent Perez), the dead man's shoe-magnate brother (Jean-Louis Trintignant), and a pair of red spike-heel pumps that's just as rich in cross purposes and inchoate emotions. Chéreau loves his actors (although perhaps the women less than the men) and they all deliver for him, but none more so than Greggory and Trintignant.
Those Who Love Me is shot in handheld Cinemascope (a trip in itself) by the agile Eric Gauthier. The camera movement would be excessively romantic if it wasn't so wittily undercut (dissected, to be more exact) by François Gediger's editing. On a second or third viewing, bits of camera movement emerge and echo in the way motifs do in classical music, tying the parts into a whole. And speaking of music, there's too much of it and some of the choices are too obvious, although it's hard to quibble about a score that includes Mahler and "Save the Last Dance for Me."
American viewers, who've come to expect a film to spoon-feed them plot, characters, and motivations, tend to react with hostility to a film that can't be totally apprehended in a single viewing. They'd rather blame the film than doubt their own intellectual capacity. But I guarantee that if you find yourself confused, so does everyone else in the audience. I loved this film from the first time I saw it but it took me a second viewing to sort out the characters and relationships, and a third to begin to appreciate the intricacies of the form. For a fetishist, this is the film of the year.
If the psychological explanation of love at first sight is a kind of unconscious déjà vu, that's certainly the experience of Runaway Bride for viewers who've waited nine years for Julia Roberts and Richard Gere to again gaze into each others' eyes and know that this only happens once in a lifetime. In the near-decade that has elapsed since Pretty Woman, nothing about the two stars seems to have changed except the order of their billing.
Roberts plays Maggie Carpenter, the most beautiful small-town hardware store proprietor that ever lived. Maggie's fear of commitment takes unusual form; she gets engaged to inappropriate men and then leaves them, literally, at the altar. Gere plays Ike Graham, a boozy (though not unduly bloated), cynical, divorced columnist for USA Today, a gig that, inexplicably, makes him recognizable to every person in America and also pays well enough for him to afford a small but well-appointed terraced apartment on Central Park West. Ike writes a column about Maggie so filled with inaccuracies that he's fired on the spot by his editor, who's also his ex-wife. The only way for him to reestablish his reputation is to write a kind of New Journalism profile of the runaway bride. But there's no story unless she runs again.
Roberts and Gere inhabit this forced premise as comfortably as a pair of old shoesa really attractive pair of old shoes. It's a relief that Roberts, who was so frozen-faced and leaden in Notting Hill, is back to coltish form. Gere is not very interesting except when he's looking quizzically seductive, and maybe not even then. Under Garry Marshall's direction, the film drags along for two-thirds and then briefly stirs to life in a wedding scene that has the bridesmaids charging down the aisle. At that point the mostly middle-aged, mostly female preview audience started laughing and didn't stop until the end. That's more goodwill than I could muster for such a lame vehicle. Runaway Bride isn't as offensive as most studio romantic comediesjust pointless and dull.
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