Film

In “The Middle of the World,” the Girl Doesn’t Want Saving

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Emerging at the tail end of the French New Wave, Swiss director Alain Tanner, now 87, gave his native country a place in European art-house cinema. Yet here, his work remains curiously underseen. No better time than now to fix that, with Metrograph screening eight of Tanner’s films between July 12 and 23, including his best-known picture, Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000 (1976); the Bulle Ogier–starring La Salamandre (1971); and his debut, Charles, Dead or Alive (1969). But if I could recommend just one, it would be his 1974 film, The Middle of the World, which, on the surface, is more or less a straightforward romantic drama but reveals itself as a more poignant study of a male-female dynamic. It starts with a boy-meets-girl. A married politician (Philippe Léotard) meets an Italian café waitress (Olimpia Carlisi) and risks losing his election by starting up an affair with her. Scandal is the last thing he needs, but he believes this is a girl worth losing it all for. She, on the other hand, is a bit harder to read, and he doesn’t try very hard anyway, beyond what he projects onto her. He tries to save her from her small-town life because he thinks that’s what she wants, but she doesn’t need or want saving — truths he ultimately struggles to understand. “You don’t listen. Like my father,” she says. “I know you well. You don’t know me.” Tanner scripted the film with English writer John Berger, and it co-stars French New Wave staple Juliet Berto.

 

The Middle of the World
Directed by Alain Tanner
July 13 and 16, Metrograph

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