“I can’t fight imagination.”
Cesar (Yves Montand) seems like an affable, gregarious tycoon–the life and soul of every party. He excels at entertaining a room full of people. His long-term girlfriend, divorcee, Rosalie (Romy Schneider) works for him, but maintains her independence by living separately with her small daughter. When the film begins, Cesar and Rosalie attend a wedding of a friend, and Rosalie runs into the dark, brooding David (Sami Frey), a cartoonist she had a serious relationship with years previously.
Cesar seems to sense that something exists between Rosalie and David, and there’s an immediate rivalry between the two men. Cesar is the aggressor, and David seems mildly amused by the situation more than anything else. Cesar is confident and rich. David, on the other hand, is younger. The scene for the basic love triangle is set. Which one will Rosalie chose?
Cesar and Rosalie is an early film from French director Claude Sautet. The dynamics of the love triangle are explored in some detail here. Cesar is so threatened that his actions initiate a reaction from Rosalie. Cesar is the most interesting character of the three–bullish, and self-destructive when crossed, he abruptly erupts when he can’t buy what he wants. His explosively violent temper goes beyond the bounds of acceptability. The film surprises at some moments, and the plot is not easy to predict. While Cesar’s character is perfectly developed, Rosalie’s decisions are not explored to the same extent. The film was made in the early 70s and is a little dated. This is most evident in the roles of the females. Rosalie is ordered to serve beer to Cesar and his poker-playing friends in one scene, and when she spends the evening with David, she’s immediately consigned to coffee making. Another female (Rosalie’s ex-husband’s lover) is summarily ordered to make an omelette, so perhaps it’s not surprising that Rosalie’s character isn’t explored fully. However, I cannot fathom why on earth David–who seems to be the rational person in this trio–continues to be involved. Cesar and Rosalie is not the subtly perfect film Un Coeur en Hiver–a much later Sautet film, but one can see that both films are from the same director. Un Coeur en Hiver, however, is the perfect mature work from Sautet–whereas Cesar and Rosalie–while good–is less polished and flawed.
Fans of Isabelle Huppert should keep an eye open for her in a very early small role. She plays Marite and even has a few lines.