LOS ANGELES – When one thinks of French New Wave directors the names François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard and Eric Rohmer are among those that leap to mind. But now Rialto Pictures is theatrically re-releasing five films by one of France’s lesser known, yet nonetheless noteworthy auteurs, Claude Sautet. The quintet is being screened for a week beginning July 24 in the DCP (Digital Cinema Package) format in L.A. at the Laemmle Royal Theater. Cineastes who love their cinema sophisticated are likely to savor these motion picture bonbons.
Truffaut’s 1962 Jules et Jim is often regarded as the gold standard for movies about ménage-à-trois relationships. However, Sautet’s 1972 César & Rosalie gives that classic threesome a run for its money. César & Rosalie is a sometimes buoyant, almost always riveting account of the three-way love affair between Romy Schneider (Sautet is credited with reviving the saucy Austrian actress’s career), Yves Montand (1969’s Z) and Sami Frey (who appeared in Godard’s 1964 Band of Outsiders but may be best known to American audiences for his role in the 1987 murder mystery Black Widow).
When Rosalie’s (Schneider) former lover David (Frey) returns after a five-year absence he upsets the sexual applecart. As the aptly named César, Montand has been romancing Rosalie. While César is a successful scrap metal businessman, David is a much younger, better-looking cartoonist. The youthful artiste and middle-aged wheeler-dealer clash almost immediately.
Around the time César & Rosalie was released I used to argue with comrades on the New York Left about the state of mind of members of the capitalist class. Other leftists believed that the bourgeoisie were merely following their economic interests while I maintained that the capitalists were crazy, pursuing clinically insane policies like the misbegotten Vietnam War. I wish I had seen César & Rosalie at the time, because Montand’s (who off screen was a gauchiste) depiction of the gauche César is exhibit “A” of my contention.
In addition to violent mood swings that jeopardize those around him (I fully expected César & Rosalie to end disastrously, like Jules et Jim), César is the embodiment of despicable conspicuous consumption. He buys things just to brag about them and show off that he can afford them and how rich he is. He dresses to impress – if not with his sartorial splendor, with the price tags of his garb. In one scene César boasts about how many francs his new shoes cost – which underwhelms Rosalie, who undercuts his braggadocio by pointing out that despite how expensive they are, his shiny brown shoes are mismatched with his suit.
I was really absorbed by and enjoyed César & Rosalie, with its untraditional take on relationships and human behavior. With its outré flavor and bent, the only recent U.S. release that’s similar in terms of tone is The Overnight, that other outrageous comedy of manners that takes a skewed, offbeat look at monogamy.
Other Sautet films being screened through July 30 at the Laemmle Royal include the 1971 policier Max et les ferrailleurs, a crime thriller starring Michel Piccoli and Schneider. They also co-star in 1970’s psychologically astute Les choses de la vie. Piccoli – a major French star – also returned with Montand for Sautet’s 1974 look at male mid-life crisis among several buddies in Vincent, François, Paul and the Others, costarring Gérard Depardieu. Emmanuelle Béart (who acted in 1996’s Mission: Impossible) starred in a later film by Sautet, 1995’s Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud, another meditation on marriage and male-female relationships. Sautet died in 2000.
This excursion into French cinema and Sautet revival can provide the cure for that put-your-brain-into-neutral summertime blues called “summer blockbusters.” For show times see: www.laemmle.com/films/39524.