Dir: Alain Resnais. Fr-It. 2006. 120mins.

Now well into his eighties, Alain Resnaisis firmly established as one of cinema's all-time masters and has no need toprove anything to anyone. It means that with Private Fears In Public Places he can againallow himself the luxury of adapting an Alan Ayckbourncomedy of manners, transposing the plot from Londonto Paris andfrom English into French culture. The result is a splendid picture which is sad,funny and compassionate at the same time; faithful to its theatrical originsand yet eminently suited to the big screen.

Ironic, yet also a melancholyreflection on solitude and the desperate efforts of humans to escape it at anycost, Private Fears InPublic Places makes for a perspicacious character study and is served by asuperb cast, most of them Resnais veterans who have appearedin similar experiments before.

Boosted by critical support,it should emerge at many festivals around the world - it travels to Toronto after its premiere in competition at Venice - and allself-respecting arthouse cinemas. Private Fears InPublic Places is released in France in November through MarsDistribution.

Echoes of previous Resnais films, such as SameOld Song, ring through the opening sequence in which real estate agentThierry (Dussollier) shows a flat to Nicole (Laura Morante, a new addition to the Resnaisteam), a potential customer, only to be told in no uncertain manner that thisis not the kind of apartment she wants to buy.

The plot evolves from thatpoint into three intersecting strands. One concerns Thierry, his sister Gaelle (Isabelle Carre, another Resnais newcomer) and his pious assistant Charlotte (Azema); the second follows Nicole and her unemployedboyfriend Dan (Wilson); and the third focuses on an ageing, possibly gay,bartender Lionel (Arditi), living alone with hisailing, foul-mouthed and garrulous father, who is never seen but verydistinctly heard (a hearty contribution by Claude Rich, yet another Resnais veteran).

Loneliness, or the fear of,is the one common denominator linking these characters, each one at a differentstage trying to deal with a problem which, sooner or later, they all realise they cannot beat.

Thierry ends up in front ofa flickering TV screen. Nicole loses all hope of retrieving the same Dan she oncefell in love with; he meanwhile drowns his self-pity and lack of self-esteem ingallons of alcohol, looking for a new start. Gaellepretends to have a ball every night of the week when, in reality, she goes outand sits alone in a bar, hoping for the chance encounter that will change herlife.

Charlotte uses her religious zeal to escape from the sinfulurges she feels boiling up inside her, while Lionel does penitence for what he deemspast sins by burdening himself with a father who hates his guts.

If all this sounds grim anddiscouraging then it is - but strangely enough, neither the presentation nor thedialogue are. At first glance, they seem almost light hearted and cheerful,which is all to the credit of Resnais and his collaborators.

The veteran film-maker masterfullyreigns over proceedings, keeping things inside the fictitious studio universehe has created while reminding the audience of its nature by emphasising how we are watching a story unfold on a set. Havingalready indulged several times in similar stage adaptations, such as L'Amour A Mort, Melo and of course Smoking/No Smoking - also based on Ayckbourn - he feels completely at ease with the genre and itsdetails.

Resnais also pays tribute to the great directors he loves: when,at one point, Gaelle waits for her date with a flowerpinned on her dress, it is difficult not to recall a similar Lubitsch scene with a different tone in The Shop Around The Corner.

Jean-Michel Ribes' vibrant take on Ayckbourn'sdialogue removes any suspicion that this story could belong to a differentlanguage and culture, enforcing the authenticity of the piece's French nature.Since this is, after all, a comedy, it is spiced throughout with deprecatinghumor, often generating short spurts of uneasy laughter. But as funny as it is,such dialogue never hides the barely dissimulated underlying sadness.

Sabien Azema, Pierre Arditi and Andre Dussolier, whohave been in all of Resnais similar works, haveacquired the natural knack for delivering a stage performance as if it waseveryday banter. Lambert Wilson,a later addition, is by now also part of the family while Isabelle Carre and Laura Morante are becomingbetter and better.

Resnais's regular art director Jacques Saulnier(working with Jean-Michel Ducoutry and Solange Zeitoun), provides aseries of brilliantly designed sets, from modern and uncomfortable to drab andold-fashioned. Meanwhile Eric Gautier's camera captures the characters trappedinside them with a bright, never flinching eye.

The alert hand of editor Herve de Luze lends the picture a dynamic dimension that lifts anysuspicion that this might be nothing more than a photographed play. The winterchill that all the characters want to come in from is constantly underlined bythe repeated presence of snowflakes separating scenes.

Production companies/backers
Aoudaine Production
Arena Films
France 2 Cinema

International sales
Studio Canal

French distribution
Mars Distribution

Bruno Pesery

Alain Resnais
Jena-Michel Ribes
Alan Ayckbourn

Eric Gautier

Herve de Luze

Production design
Jacques Saulnier
Jean-Michel Ducoutry
Solange Zeitoun

Mark Snow

Main cast
Sabien Azema
Isabelle Carre
Laura Morante
Andre Dussolier
Lambert Wilson
Pierre Arditi
Claude Rich