Thursday, August 09, 2007

Private Fears in Public Places (Coeurs)

Coeurs (Private Fears in Public Places) film poster

As an Alan, how could I not go and see a film made by an Alain based on a play by another Alan? Directed by Alain Resnais, in the UK Private Fears in Public Places is promoted under the name of the Alan Ayckbourn play it’s based on, rather than the French film’s title Coeurs (Hearts).

Nicole is looking for two things. an apartment and commitment. She’s exacting in her real estate demands, and frustrated by her fiancé’s (Dan) inability to go out and get a job now that his army career has been abruptly terminated.

Thierry sets up the viewings for Nicole, and bumbles in and out of the estate agency office, subtly flirting with his religiously-minded colleague Charlotte. While he shares a flat with his sister Gaëlle (the age difference makes her look more like his daughter), Charlotte seems to spend her evenings watching a cheesy favourite hymn show called Songs That Changed My Life (which I can’t imagine French television channels agreeing to broadcast). Meanwhile Gaëlle spends most evenings trying to meet up with men from single’s columns, while pretending to her brother that she’s out with the girls.

Charlotte and Lionel

Unwilling to find a job, Dan spends more and more time in a Paris hotel bar, sharing his wit with barman Lionel who cheerfully waters Dan’s liver at work, while at home he’s struggles to look after his increasingly aggravated bed-bound father, Arthur. He’s the seventh character in this ménage à six. We can see Arthur’s legs moving, hear his voice guldering obscenities at his carers, and see the plates he throws across his room, but we never see his face. Saintly Charlotte starts caring for Arthur as Lionel works the night shift at the bar. But her pious exterior hides a raunchy secret. And Dan starts dating Gaëlle.

Ayckbourn’s clever device is that each of the six actors meets four of the others. The casting director wasn’t overly busy once the main characters were in position, only needing a handful more for the video clips from the hymn show.

As the film proceeds, every character starts to reveal their insecurities and fears. Nicole’s relationship is unstable. Dan can’t come to terms with his sudden switch to civvy street. Thierry is lonely. Nicole is rejected. Lionel is frustrated with his situation. And Charlotte is repressing her more outrageous side … or is she? By the end of the film, I wonder if Charlotte isn’t the only character who has found any satisfaction?

Nicole and Dan

At times, the play film seems a tad unnatural. And not just because it looked like an advert for Apple laptops.

It’s been shot and edited to look like a play, but with the advantage of camera angles that a theatre audience aren’t encouraged to view. You sometimes look down and see the tops of the house walls, just like they’d been built on a stage! But it was nice to watch a screen twice the width of last week's The Seventh Seal. And the theatre’s curtain—that swishes across between acts—has been replaced with the seemingly ever-present Parisian snow.

The inclusion of a moderately sensible Christian character in a French film was unusual too. Maybe it’s a product of the original play being set in Scarborough (look out for the poster on the wall in Thierry’s apartment), but it felt very un-French. On the other hand, the lack of meaning, and lack of real tragedy or celebration in the film’s ending, did restore the necessary cultural balance.

(Does anyone else have trouble typing Coeurs without making a mistake? It’s a most unnatural word to type on a QWERTY keyboard.)

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