Dir: Claude Lelouch. France. 2002. 135 mins.
His Palme D'Or in 1966 for A Man And A Woman notwithstanding, Claude Lelouch has never been a critics' favourite and his latest offering, unveiled to the press in Cannes to sniggers and walk-outs, was no exception. And indeed even the director's fans will concede that this is not one of his better films. But it retains enough of his irrepressible romanticism and glossy showmanship to regale the faithful when it opens in France this week. Elsewhere, scornful reviews are likely to blight prospects for the movie, whose part-English, part-French script contains some very unfortunate lines ("Boats are like women: the more beautiful they are, the more dangerous"; "The despair of the jet set is fathomless"). Paramount Classics holds rights for all English-speaking territories.
Irons plays Valentin, a gentleman thief who holds up jewellery stores in outrageous disguises armed with little but chutzpah. Increasingly burnt-out, he leaves his long-time lover (Martines) and invests his "earnings" in a fabulous yacht on which he plans to sail solo around the world. But blinding headaches and memory loss force him to break off his trip in Morocco. Fearing a brain tumour, he makes a secret pact with God: if he survives, he will reimburse everyone he has robbed (this aspect of the character is, according to Lelouch, based on a man who did this to him in real life).
Resting at a swish hotel in Fez, he meets Jane (Patricia Kaas), a singer who has quit her job in a jazz club after her trumpeter lover left her for her best friend. Now she serenades bored tourists as a piano bar singer while herself suffering from blackouts. The two of them sign up for CAT scans at the local hospital, but then decide instead to make a pilgrimage to a healing shaman's grave at the top of a remote mountain. Meanwhile Valentin is being pursued by the police in connection with a robbery at the hotel.
And Now....Ladies And Gentleman is always gorgeous to watch, even if at times it looks perilously like a commercial for the Moroccan Tourist Board. Kaas, in her first acting role, is an appealing and sexy screen presence and gets to croon plenty of songs, though some viewers might regret the film's musical shift from the bluesy jazz of the opening scenes to soft lounge staples like Autumn Leaves and at one point even the maddening theme from A Man And A Woman.
Lelouch's most enjoyable films buzz with characters and subplots, almost too many for one movie, which criss-cross and mirror each other, often with the same actors in multiple roles. But there is little here of that exuberance (although Jean-Marie Biagard appears in a brief double turn as genial twin doctors). After a vigorous first act introducing a number of secondary characters, many of these - Valentin's lover, a boxer and his wife - are completely sidelined as the film shrivels in focus to its central couple. And a melancholy pall hangs over even their story. It runs out of steam well before the end as if, like Jane and Valentin, it were ailing and tired of life.
Still, the film is lifted a little by a slew of appealing performances: Irons is dryly amusing as the jewel thief, Yvan Attal and Therry Lhermitte score fleetingly as two seductive strangers and Claudia Cardinale has a ball in a bit part as a flamboyant Italian contessa.
Prod cos: Les Films 13, Gemka, France 2 Cinema, L&G
Fr dist: SND
Int'l sales: Les Films 26
Exec prods: Tania Zazulinsky, Jean Paul De Vidas
Prods: Lelouch, Martine Kampf-Dussart, Paul Hitchcock, Rick Senat
Scr: Lelouch, Pierre Leroux, Pierre Uytterhoeven
Dop: Pierre-William Glenn
Prod des: Johann George
Ed: Helene de Luze
Music: Michel Legrand
Main cast: Jeremy Irons, Patricia Kaas, Thierry Lhermitte, Alessandra Martines, Claudia Cardinale