“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.
“I don’t usually throw myself at people.”
In Un Coeur en Hiver (A Heart in Winter) Maxim (Andre Dussollier) and Stephan (Daniel Auteuil) work together in Paris. Maxim (Andre Dussollier) owns and runs a business that specializes in violins. Maxim’s clients come from all over the world to buy, sell, or repair their instruments. Stephan (Daniel Fauteuil) is an employee, and it’s his job to repair and also build violins. Stephan obviously loves his work, and he does his job with precision and excellence. Maxim is charismatic and has the social skills Stephan lacks. Maxim is the person who meets the clients and flies all over the world to bring back the violins Stephan salvages. Stephan is quiet, self-contained and far more complex than Maxim. The two men have an interesting relationship. On the surface, it would appear that they are equals whose different talents create a great working partnership, but the story, which is at first narrated by Stephan, reveals an inequity in the relationship. One day, Maxim confesses that he’s in a relationship with a violinist, Camille Kessler (Emmanuelle Beart). He introduces Camille to Stephan, and trouble begins.
Camille Kessler is used to people taking care of her. There’s her long-time, slightly jealous agent/manager, Regina who is also ready to act as a protective duenna. And then there’s Maxim. He’s so grateful that Camille looks at him, that he’s ready to take her on any terms–even though he knows her music comes first. Stephan appears to be incapable of emotion, yet many questions remain as to his motivations. Does he play mind games with both Camille and Maxim or he is genuinely stirred by a tweak of passion? The acting is phenomenal. Emmanuelle Beart as Camille is subdued and self-contained, and her passion appears to be only for music–until the right buttons are pushed. Auteuil–as always–masters his role of Stephan–a complicated man who doesn’t appear to need anything. It would be a tremendous understatement to label this film ‘a love triangle’ as the film is far more complex than that. The plot remains (after watching the film at least a dozen times) open to several interpretations. This marvelous French film (with English subtitles) and directed by Claude Sautet, will have a special appeal to classical music lovers. The soundtrack is stupendous. For those interested–to understand Stephan’s character, read Lermontov’s novel A Hero of Our Time. (The novel is even mentioned in the film.) Stephan is a modern-day version of Pechorin.