I probably say this about every Resnais film, but this has got to be the most wonderful Resnais film. One of his late-period intersecting-lives ensemble pieces, it’s a tribute to Dennis Potter, so the characters lipsync classic pop songs – but despite the fun tunes it’s ultimately a downbeat drama about depression.

Written by two of its lead actors: Jean-Pierre Bacri (balding Nicolas, back in Paris after years away and looking for the perfect apartment) and Agnès Jaoui (Camille, a tour guide who reminds me of Anna Kendrick).

Resnais faves Sabine Azéma (Camille’s sister Odile) and Pierre Arditi play husband and wife – though he’s cheating, and is trying to tell her that he’s leaving.

Odile with her husband:

Odile with her sister:

André Dussollier is a realtor showing flats to Nicolas, stalking Camille on her city tours, and working for Marc (Lambert Wilson), who begins dating André’s beloved Camille while showing larger flats to her and Odile.

Camille and Marc:

Camille and André:

Ultimately at least Camille, Nicolas, André and Pierre are somewhere between generally unhappy and clinically depressed. Odile buys a place from Marc and at the housewarming party Arditi plans to walk out (after closing on a new house?) and André turns on his boss.

When things start to go bad at the party, sea creatures appear over the picture:

Favorite tunes included Marc’s confident women-chasing theme song “J’aime Les Filles” by Jacques Dutronc and Nicolas’s whiny hypochondriac theme song “Je ne suis pas bien portant” by Gaston Ouvrard.

A hit in France, it won seven César awards, though Resnais lost the director award to Luc Besson of all the damn things. Played in Berlin with Jackie Brown and The Big Lebowski.

Nicolas with his estranged wife Jane Birkin:

Marc all alone:

Resnais in the NY Times:

Potter was extremely pessimistic. His are films of a man who has suffered a great deal, who creates characters who are paranoid. The songs are in total contrast with the situations in the film. We tried to have the song always come from inside the head of the character, to reflect the moment.

Resnais’s second movie in a row about a group of actors rallying around a dying friend. You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet was a perfect final film, but Resnais was still alive and working, so he made another one. It’s just as playful, but more in the story than the filmmaking – this time the never-seen dying friend uses his situation to steal all the women.

Actually called Aimer, Boire et Chanter (google: Loving, Drinking and Singing), which is a wonderful title for the final film of one of our greatest directors – but Life of Riley was the title of the Alan Ayckbourn play it adapts. Resnais’s third Alan Ayckbourn adaptation, fourth if you consider Smoking/No Smoking two movies, fourth-and-a-half if you consider the play-within-the-film here is Ayckbourn’s Relatively Speaking.

The players: Kathryn (the great Sabine Azéma) and her balding clock-watcher husband Colin (Hippolyte Girardot, Anne Consigny’s husband in A Christmas Tale, ensemble in You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet) live in a comfy row house.

The dying man’s wealthy best friend Jack (sideburnsed Michel Vuillermoz of the last two Resnais films) and wife Tamara (Caroline Silhol, young rich guy’s mom in A Girl Cut In Two) live in a nice, big house.

The dying man’s ex-wife Monica (Sandrine Kiberlain of Benoît Jacquot’s Seventh Heaven) and her new man, the much older Simeon (André Dussollier in his eighth Resnais film) live at Simeon’s place in the country.

Tamara, Monica, Kathryn:

Colin, Jack, Simeon:

George Riley, afflicted with cancer, is never seen or heard, nor is the amateur theater director who casts a few of our characters in Relatively Speaking, which they’re rehearsing throughout the film. Kathryn and Tamara convince a reluctant Monica to move back in with Riley for a few weeks, but all three women start spending too much time at his house, and each is personally invited to go on a final vacation with him after the play closes. Each is tempted: Tamara’s upset that her husband is cheating, Monica was Riley’s wife for years, and Kathryn almost married Riley before meeting Colin. Ultimately Colin and Kathryn’s daughter Tilly sneaks away and joins Riley on the trip, during which he passes away.

Almost all the action is set on backyard patios – blatantly artificial, stagey sets (house walls are represented with hanging strips of cloth). Establishing shots are drawings. Closeups are always set against a b/w crosshatch pattern. And there are a couple of appearances by an angry-looking puppet groundhog. Lovely, light music by Mark Snow. Won prizes at Berlin, playing with Boyhood, Beloved Sisters and winner Black Coal, Thin Ice.

M. D’Angelo: “In years to come I’m probably just gonna mentally reverse the order of these last two films, so as to let him go out on a high note,” and D. Ehrlich calls it “Alain Resnais’ YOU AIN’T SEEN AN INFINITELY MORE INTERESTING VERSION OF THIS LAST YEAR?

V. Rizov: “It may be impossible (for me, anyway) to understand what repeatedly drew Resnais to these rather mediocre Alan Ayckbourn plays, but his commitment to rendering them nearly impossible to understand intent-wise is a beguiling final spectacle of its own.”

Tilly at the funeral:

Max Nelson for Reverse Shot:

Colin and Kathryn’s beautiful teenage daughter, who comes to the old seducer’s funeral, is the film’s trump card; her serene indifference to the event is a kind of mirror image to the equally serene god’s-eye perspective with which the movie treats its heroes … The couple’s daughter, on the other hand, speaks the unflappably confident language of a person just starting to live. To say that the movie lacks the terms to interpret this language is only to say that it’s a film made in the spirit of old age rather than that of youth — but few swan songs cede the floor to a younger generation this graciously, or with such mischievous parting words.

Fascinating, mostly unrelated, from Cinema Scope:

After meeting in the late ’60’s, Resnais and [Marvel Comics visionary Stan] Lee first worked together in 1971 on a screenplay called The Monster Maker, about a schlock-horror filmmaker who attempts to go legit by making a prestige picture about imminent ecological disaster. Though the pair managed to sell the script, the project failed to find financing when producers balked at the cost of creating a climactic deluge of rubbish that would choke the streets of New York. (A later project called The Inmates, a romantic comedy that revealed how humans were exiled to Earth long ago as punishment for extraterrestrial wrongdoing, never made it past the treatment stage, while Lee’s proposal for Resnais to direct Spider-Man – with Henry Winkler in the lead – may not have even made it that far.)

So, it’s far from the best Resnais film, as most of the reviews I’ve read agree, but as F. Nehme said, “it’s still an affectionate coda for a master,” and that’s nothing to sneeze at. After all, the death of Riley didn’t move me, but the phrase in Richard Brody’s review, “Sabine Azéma — Resnais’s wife, now his widow,” is the saddest I’ve read all month.

Piecemeal protest doc with surprisingly great location footage and interesting scenes, each one a bit too loud and going on for too long. The pieces are mostly unsigned, but I believe Chris Marker put the project together, and some segments are either identified online, or just very easily guessed (ahem, Resnais). They mention that Joris Ivens shot on location – most everyone else stayed home and used stock footage or filmed protest marches.

“It is in Vietnam that the main question of our time arises: the right of the poor to establish societies based on something else than the interests of the rich.”

Cluster-bomb:

Supposed to be President Johnson:

The Resnais segment is interesting before it wears out its welcome. Bernard Fresson (of a few Resnais films, including a small part in Je t’aime, je t’aime) is playing “writer Claude Ridder” (name of the lead character in Je t’aime, je t’aime played by Claude Rich) while a woman Karen Blanguernon (Rene Clement’s The Deadly Trap) glares from the corner of his office. This segment was written by Jacques Sternberg (Je t’aime, je t’aime, of course), so perhaps Claude Ridder was his standard lead character name, since this Ridder seems too impassioned to be the heartbroken dead soul from the feature. “Ridder” monologues on the war, politics, and his own inability to make change. “A spineless French intellectual articulating excuses for his class’s political apathy,” per the NY Times.

Next, a history lesson using stock footage, photographs and comics, drawing connections to the Spanish Civil War (the Resnais had mentioned Algeria).

Then Godard, who monologues in front of a giant film camera, talking about the distance, his inability to connect with the war itself, or even the French working class, the focus of so many of his films. Since he can’t film on-location, he inserts Vietnam into his feature films. “I make films. That’s the best I can do for Vietnam. Instead of invading Vietnam with a kind of generosity that makes things unnatural, we let Vietnam invade us.”

After a jaunty music video to a protest song by Tom Paxton, a longer somber voiceover reading the words of Michele Ray who spent three weeks with the Viet Cong, showing her footage before it goes crazy at the end.

“Why We Fight,” in which General Westmoreland explains the official U.S. position on the war, filmed off a TV while someone zooms around and twiddles knobs. Title must be referencing the 1940’s U.S. propaganda film series Why We Fight, which Joris Ivens contributed to.

Anti-napalm rabbi:

Monologue by Fidel Castro, who gives his theories on guerrilla warfare and how this applies to Vietnam. The new wavers seemed to have easy access to Fidel back then.

Ann Uyen, a Vietnamese woman living in Paris discusses Norman Morrison’s setting himself on fire outside the pentagon, and what that meant to her people. “We think that in America there is another war, a people’s war against everything that’s unfair.” Then an interview with Norman’s widow, who seems in sync with Norman’s politics. This was by William Klein.

War protest zombie walk, probably shot by Klein:

Marker’s outro:

In facing this defiance [of the Vietnamese], the choice of rich society is easy: either this society must destroy everything resisting it – but the task may be bigger than its means of destruction – or it will have to transform itself completely – but maybe it’s too much for a society at the peak of its power. If it refuses that option, it will have to sacrifice its reassuring illusions, to accept this war between the poor and the rich as inevitable, and to lose it.

Cinétracts (1968)

I watched a collection containing roughly half of the Cinetracts, an anonymously-directed series of two-to-five-minute shorts. The first few seemed to be protest-photo montages, and I thought watching a bunch of these in a row would be tiresome so I spaced it out over a few weeks. Some are very different though, telling stories/poems with intertitles or scrawling words directly onto the photos, using different forms of movement and speeds of editing. Some use zooms and dissolves, bringing the photos to life, others are simply long takes of photos interspersed with titles, wordplay, pages from books.

Contributors supposedly included Godard, Marker, Resnais, Gorin, Philippe Garrel (same year he made Le Révélateur), Jackie Raynal (editor on half the Six Moral Tales), Jean-Denis Bonan (Jean Rollin’s editor at the time), Gerard Fromanger and Jacques Loiseleux (later cinematographer for Ivens, Pialat and Yves Boisset). Marker was busy – this project overlapped his SLON collective and Groupe Medvedkine.

Gary Elshaw has by far the most useful work on the Cinetracts online, even if it’s only about Godard’s contributions.

The purpose of the Ciné-Tracts, as with most of Godard’s 1968 film projects, was to offer a critically alternative source of ‘news’ or information in contrast to the commercially offered mediums available. … The state censorship of the media throughout the events of May necessitated communication along different lines than had existed before.

Other online writing on these tends to focus on determining which ones Godard made (and they can’t seem to agree).


Casque Bleu (1995)

Info dump by a cynical Frenchman who acted as a UN peacekeeper during one of the Yugoslav wars. He speaks rapidly in close-up, with occasional title cards for different topics and cutaways to a photo album.

“When you’re in a country at war, armed, and you have orders not to use weapons, in actual fact you are on the side of the aggressor, the one who’s trying to conquer the land.”


Description of a Struggle (1960)

Watched this again with much improved picture quality and English voiceover. Had been burning to see it again since watching Dan Geva’s Description of a Memory. Still great, but I think I prefer Sunday in Peking. Noticed this time when the voiceover said “bar kokhba,” which is apparently not only the name of a John Zorn music project.

Some of the earliest-listed Resnais shorts, a series of short portraits of different artists from the year before his Van Gogh, and three years before Gauguin and Guernica. I was surprised to come across these online. Not sure if they were released with no sound, but the copies I found were completely silent, with no music, no clever Marker or Cayrol or Queneau commentary, so I looked up info on each artist online.

(Mis)information: NY Times bio gets the dates wrong but claims these were indeed silent, Films de France says the 16 minute Hartung film is in color and runs 90 minutes (and is “passable entertainment”). Richard Neupert’s French New Wave book says these were made after Resnais dropped out of film school in 1945 and did his military service in 1946. “Resnais credited these shorts about painting as valuable testing ground for making still images come alive through editing and camera movement.”

 
Visite a Óscar Domínguez

Some time-lapse painting, and did I see a stop-motion statue?

Mid-Centuria: “Óscar Domínguez (1906-1957) was a Spanish Surrealist painter … During the 1940’s, his paintings were strongly influenced by Picasso with whom he had become friends while living in Paris.”

Visite A Hans Hartung

Groovy looking dissolves in this one.

Wiki: “Hans Hartung (1904-1989) was a German-French painter, known for his gestural abstract style.” The nazis tried to arrest him for being too cubist.

The artist (smoking, of course) scratching out a spiral:

Visite a Cesar Domela

Aha, an opening credit for commentary by A.F. Delmarle – so these were not originally silent. This one’s in rougher shape. Shows him using cutouts and tapping a paintbrush to get texture, sanding objects which will be affixed to the canvas, then last couple minutes is a showcase of finished(?) works.

Wiki: “César Domela (1900-1992) was a Dutch sculptor, painter, photographer, and typographer, and a key member of the De Stijl movement.”

Visite a Felix Labisse

No commentary credit here, just an opening Hegel quote then a long pan down two mighty collages. Works shown focus on naked women and birds, two of my favorite things, and are super awesome and disturbing, reminding me of Dali-meets-Woodring.

Wiki: “Félix Labisse (1905-1982) was a French Surrealist painter, illustrator, and designer.” IMDB says he has cinema experience, appearing in Zero for Conduct and a couple Henri Storck films.

Visite a Lucien Coutaud

Sci-fi landscapes, nudes and angular craziness.

M. Adair: “Lucien Coutaud (1905-1977) was a French surrealist painter and engraver … He had 40+ years success with his artwork which has varied widely from painting, drawing, print-making, costume designing and illustrating … Coutaud has also designed opera, theater and ballet sets.”

Portrait de Christine Boomeester

With piano music. Nice bit at the end showing her beginning a painting, lighting a candle, then a title card says “at dawn,” the candle has burned down and painting is complete.

Askart: “Christine Boomeester (1904-1971) was active/lived in Italy, Netherlands, France, Indonesia … known for abstract paintings.” She was also married to Henri Goetz.

Portrait de Henri Goetz

The big one, twice as long as the others. The usual slow zooms and pans across the paintings (even a spiraling zoom into one), but also more process exploration, showing progression of the artist over a few years, a series of drawings with each one inspired by details in the previous, and the month-long process of creating a new painting – which is burned at the end (can’t tell if it was a reproduction).

Wiki: “Henri Bernard Goetz (1909-1989) was a French American Surrealist painter and engraver. He is known for his artwork, as well as for inventing the carborundum printmaking process … Goetz showed the film to Gaston Diehl, leading Diehl to commission Resnais to create the film Van Gogh in the following year. Resnais went on to win an Academy Award in 1950 for the Best Short Subject, Two-reel film for Van Gogh.”

Mouseover to fill in the shapes:
image

All these were “presented by Andre Bazin,” co-founder of Cahiers du Cinema and mentor of the French New Wave, who rarely appeared in any film credits himself. Can’t find evidence that Henri-Georges Clouzot knew Resnais, or saw his art documentaries before making The Mystery of Picasso.

Watched a couple new Marker-related shorts,
and rewatched some older ones in shiny new copies.


Sunday in Peking (1956) in lovely high definition


Letter from Siberia (1957)

Forgot how amazing this one is.
Songs and animation and opera, owl-led advertisements and imaginary newsreels.

“Since you can never tell how a bear will react to a camera, we were offered the protection of an armed policeman. But since we’re much more frightened of policemen than we are of bears, we politely declined.”

The Irkutsk Dam, “sitting on its own reflection like a station in outer space”:


Le Chant du Styrene (1958, Alain Resnais)

Mostly shots of the factory, with few humans.
Forgot about the rhyming voiceover.


Broadway By Light (1958, William Klein)

From Marker’s intro: “Each evening, in the centre of New York, an artificial day rises. Its purpose is to announce spectacles, sell products, and the producers of these adverts would be amazed to know that the most fascinating spectacle, the most precious product made by them, is the very street transformed by their signs.” Klein shoots the lights of Broadway, scored by cartoon-jazz music that matches the editing and light movement. Wonderful, would like to put this and some Joris Ivens and Bert Haanstra shorts on an infinite loop in my office. Klein’s first film (I only knew his Mr. Freedom before), edited by Alain Resnais.


A Valparaiso (1963, Joris Ivens) from the 2008 restoration


Junkopia (1981)

Uses the sort of electronically-processed sound he’d be featuring in his next full-length film, Sans Soleil.


Eclipse (1999)

On a day when everyone is looking at a solar eclipse through special glasses, Marker watches the watchers instead. First half has live sound at a hippo sculpture park, then he switches to slow motion and electronic music and goes elsewhere (the zoo? there are owls).


Description of a Memory (2007, Dan Geva)

I didn’t rewatch my terrible-quality copy of Marker’s Description of a Struggle, but instead tried this doc, the second feature-length film I’ve seen this year made in response to a Chris Marker-related film. Geva shows the Marker film and stills to locals, asks about the people who appeared in the original. Reminds me of Marker’s friend Agnes Varda, her periodic returns to previous films through documentaries and shorts and DVD extras. Geva is investigating images and memories a la Marker and Varda, turning out a worthy follow-up to the original feature.

Of the happy kid riding a cart down a hilly street: “British policeman bashed his head with an iron rod. Gone a bit mad since.

“Noah Rosenfeld, who fulfilled his dream to become a chess champion.”


More Marker:
Far From Vietnam is out in HD. The Confession is also out, and includes the Arthur London short. Mémoires pour Simone still lacks subtitles, as do most of the 1969-1970 shorts. Oh, and it looks like new copies of Description of a Struggle and Blue Helmet just came out – will save those for another day.

A slow-unfolding (but always formally exciting) Resnais movie gathering most of his favorite actors in a room for a contrived reason (a just-deceased writer/director wants his favorite actors to evaluate film of a modern performance of his Orpheus/Eurydice play). As the film goes on, the actors in the audience interact with it, reciting lines to the screen and to each other, standing up to perform entire scenes. The movie has a crisp, digital look and Resnais makes walls fall away smoothly, transporting the actors seamlessly into scenes from the play, using split-screens to show simultaneous performances of the same scene. It often seems like the ultimate movie of theater and performance, the work he’s been leading towards at least since the early 80’s (if not earlier, the location-jumping and memory-morphing hearkening back to his famed earliest features). Fortunately, it seems he’s still going strong and will have another movie out next year.

In the crowd: the Smoking/No Smoking team of Sabine Azeme and Pierre Artiti, Mathieu Amalric and Anne Consigny from Wild Grass, Michel Piccoli and Gerard Lartigau from way back in The War Is Over, Lambert Wilson (Not on the Lips), Anny Duperey (Stavisky), and more (can’t expect to know ’em all on a first viewing).

Actor Denis Podalyes plays the director, who addresses the group by video at the beginning and appears in person at the end, and his brother Bruno Podalyes actually directed the video within the movie.

Slant:

The reference point in the Resnais canon is 1986’s Mélo, which similarly foregrounded and made a virtue of its theatrical source while doubling and tripling the layers of irony, though nowhere near the extreme degree that the director pursues in his latest. .. Resnais suggests that the proper relation between the cinema and the theater is to throw it all together, take the best of both worlds and present it as pure showmanship.

Mubi:

A collective hallucination of people who think they’re talking to each other but are only talking to a screen: it’s the duly-noted theme of Vous n’avez encore rien vu, as the backgrounds dissolve from the screening room into a train station, café, and hotel, while the characters remain seated in place, stuck in some cinematheque of their imagination, foreshortened by Ruizian compositions a plane apart from their own space.

Since I’ve watched nearly all of Alain Resnais’s movies, and loved nearly all the ones I’ve watched, I had the completist urge to watch his hour-long entry in a series of TV episodes about creative types: Kafka, Vivaldi, Einstein among others in an optimistically-titled, short-lived series called The Audio-Visual Encyclopedia. Didn’t expect much, but it’s pretty remarkable.

Bertrand Tavernier digs through the archives:

Opens with a player piano, seen but not heard, then people talking about Gershwin in different languages, unsubbed. The film’s writer Edward Jablonski is on screen talking about Gershwin when a narrator starts talking over him. Photos fade in and out, people vanish like in Not on the Lips. Resnais makes much of Gershwin’s erratic behavior shortly before dying of a brain tumor, uses this to justify interruptions and strangeness in the movie. And Resnais’s recent interest in graphics – see (or preferably don’t see) his comic-book movie I Want To Go Home – comes alive with illustrations.

One speaker is put on hold in a corner of the frame while the movie lets another person talk:

Watched for Resnais’s 90th birthday. One of the most excellent, entertaining and moving Resnais films I’ve seen. Too bad it’s five hours long so I won’t be able to show it to anyone else. Just two actors (Sabine Azema, recently great in Wild Grass, and Pierre Arditi, her resurrected fiancee in Love Unto Death) play about four characters each. Each movie begins with Sabine thinking about grabbing a cigarette – in one she does, in the other she doesn’t – and builds from there, branching into multiple stories based on different decisions made by the characters, all of them more meaningful and consequential than the cigarette, rewinding to show the opposite decisions and their outcomes, building a structured mega-narrative, showing how the same characters deal with different circumstances.

Smoking

Cartoon character intros. School principal’s wife Celia Teasdale grabs a cigarette, and school caretaker Lionel Hepplewick shows up to look at her garden. Lionel flirts with Sylvie, the Teasdales’ maid.

Five Days Later: the Teasdales admit their marriage is over. Red-cheeked principal Toby decides to leave for a while.

Five Weeks Later: Celia has started over as a caterer, is working her first event with Lionel, who proves a poor business partner. She loses her damn mind, very amusingly, and Toby feels awful and returns to her.

Five Years Later: funeral of local poet Joe Hepplewick, Lionel’s father. Toby has quit drinking, and Celia is still troubled after her catering breakdown. Lionel succeeded in the food industry, married a businesswoman and runs a thriving cafeteria, while Celia, whose idea it was, is a shell of her former energetic self, cared for by her sad husband.

OR IT WENT LIKE THIS

Back at the catering job at the tail end of the breakdown, Lionel comes running up and assures Celia that she can count on him.

Five Years Later: Poet Joe’s funeral, Toby and Celia barely recognize each other. She’s still partnered with Lionel running their successful business, and Toby is a drunken mess. “At each funeral I feel like I’m being buried myself.”

OR IT WENT LIKE THIS

Back in their garden, Toby Teasdale doesn’t leave his wife but proposes a vacation. Lionel is crushed that Celia’s leaving, and tells him the catering thing was just a pipe dream.

Five Weeks Later: comic scene at a hotel terrace. Lionel has followed them, got a job as a waiter, and keeps trying to secretly speak with Celia, bringing her desserts as a pretense. Toby finds out and has him fired.

Five Years Later: funeral for Toby. Celia is accompanied by Toby’s friend Miles, and obsessed Lionel is there working as a gravedigger, still following Celia.

OR IT WENT LIKE THIS

Back at the hotel, Toby restrains himself after learning that Lionel has followed them. Celia admits she encouraged him and Lionel agrees to leave her alone.

Five Years Later: commemorative service to celebrate the school’s anniversary. Celia is still with Toby and they’re unhappy again/still. Lionel pops by, married and successful with a taxi business.

OR IT WENT LIKE THIS

Back at the Teasdales’ garden when Lionel was flirting with the maid Sylvie on the first day of the fateful cigarette, he agrees to go out with her if she’ll stop dating other guys – so he never ends up involved with Celia at all.

Five Days Later: After their date, Lionel starts working on Sylvie, telling herself she needs to improve herself if they’re ever going to make something of themselves. She gets principal Toby to agree to help her learn about literature. Toby’s wife Celia comes home, complains at Toby to stop drinking, saying Miles saved his ass from getting fired. Lionel is pleased that Sylvie is taking her self-improvement seriously.

Five Weeks Later: town festivities and a rare sighting of poet Joe Hepplewick in a wheelchair, talking with Celia, then with Sylvie about her future with his son Lionel. She’s testy when talking with now-unemployed Lionel. Toby is looking better, inspired by his new role as Sylvie’s mentor, but she tells him she’s stopping the lessons because there’s no point. Sylvie gets stuck in the stockade, where she’s to be pelted with sponges later during the festival, and Lionel hits her with one instead of freeing her.

Five Years Later: Lionel and Sylvie have two boys, are christening their young daughter. Lionel is still kind of a fuckup, and he tells Celia that Sylvie is boss in their household. Toby is feeling better since quitting his principal job, acting as godfather to the baby girl. “I’ll personally keep an eye on her education.” “I thought you were fed up with education.” “This is a special case.”

OR IT WENT LIKE THIS

Back at the festival, Lionel frees her after all, and Sylvie says she won’t marry him, then tricks him into the stockade.

Five Years Later: Principal Toby is sick-drunk at the school’s anniversary celebration. Sylvie is a reporter now, arrives to interview the principal, says Lionel married someone else. “She wasn’t as lucky as you were.” Sylvie thanks Toby for his lessons years earlier. “You showed me the way so I could escape,” and makes the principal feel happy again.

No Smoking

Celia decides against that cigarette, and misses Lionel’s visit, is visited by Toby’s friend Miles instead, who tells her that the school board is about to fire her husband for being drunk and erratic, that Miles is trying to save him. Celia says don’t bother, tells Miles that she’s leaving Toby anyway for being a shitty husband. But when she goes back in the house, Miles tells maid Sylvie to deliver the message that he’s going to try anyway, and that the four of them (he has a rocky marriage to serial cheater Rowena) should have dinner this weekend.

Five Days Later: in the garden, the only two who show for dinner are Celia and Miles – who recently saved Toby’s job at the school. Turns out Toby stayed away on purpose, wanted Miles to talk to Celia, deliver the message that Toby still wants to stay with her. But Miles is in love with Celia. Awkward dinner becomes stranger when Celia’s mom Josephine shows up, asks Miles a lot of questions (but she is very discreet). He is fed up, goes and hides in the shed, as Toby stumbles home and eats with Celia.

Five Weeks Later: confessions on the golf course. “It’s only gotten worse since he stopped drinking.” Red-haired Rowea taunts husband Miles, then gets him to read her a poem.

Five Years Later: Easter, and Miles sees Celia in the churchyard. Toby died years earlier and Miles and Rowena moved away. Back visiting now, but nobody seems especially happy.

OR IT WENT LIKE THIS

Back at the golf course, Rowena tells Miles it’s not going to work out.

Five Years Later: School’s 50th, both couples are broken up, Miles and Toby have moved away and live together, with difficulty, and Celia has scored a job at the school.

OR IT WENT LIKE THIS

Back at the beginning, Miles says he’ll defend Toby to the school board and doesn’t propose any dinner with Celia. Later, arguing with his wife on a walk through the Teasdales’ garden, Rowena locks him in the shed. Sylvie the maid lets him out, and he spontaneously invites her on a walk around the British coast, which he’d always wanted to do with his wife but never got the chance. Celia comes out to talk, says Sylvie left a message that she doesn’t like long walks, and that Rowena is out with another guy. Miles decides to go back into the shed.

Five Weeks Later: Miles is still in the shed, much to Toby’s annoyance. Rowena messes with Lionel, throws his pants in the fire when he removes them to show off, then talks her husband out of the shed, but he says he’s leaving to start over somewhere new.

Five Years Later: midnight mass. Sylvie, now married to Lionel, sees Miles in the churchyard. He’s waiting for Rowena. “You were right. You can’t start over again.”

OR IT WENT LIKE THIS

Back at the shed, Rowena is nicer to Miles and gets him to come home.

Five Years Later: party at the school, Rowena scares off Lionel, is completely nasty to her husband.

OR IT WENT LIKE THIS

Back at the shed, Celia delivers the message that Sylvie loves long walks.

Five Weeks Later: Sylvie lied, is complaining about her shoes and the cold and leg cramps on the first day of her hiking trip with Miles. They are infatuated though, and share a kiss, rare in this movie, but they’re also getting on each other’s nerves. They talk it out in a travelers’ cabin. “I always have my worst moments in sheds.” Sylvie wanders off, and Rowena arrives to collect her husband.

Five Years Later: Sylvie is just marrying Lionel, and Miles is walking her down the aisle. Rowena comes by in a red Devo hat and is pretty nice to her husband for once.

OR IT WENT LIKE THIS

Back on the hiking path, Miles refuses to follow Rowena and falls to his death in the fog.

Five Years Later: a memorial ceremony for Miles led by Toby. “His widow told us he has a preference for sheds,” so they dedicated a shed in the churchyard in his memory. Sylvie and Rowena separately tell Toby that they’ll come at times, sit in the shed and think of Miles. “Incredible, what a story. Hard to understand.”

Nice movie, with good music and a surprisingly strong endings to each title. Not shown above: Irene Pridworthy, school vice principal. Based on a play by Alan Ayckbourn (Coeurs) in which a different series of variations is performed every night, so it takes sixteen performances to catch them all. Resnais and his writers cut it down to twelve for the film. Won an award in Berlin, and best picture at the Cesars, also best director, screenplay, production design and actor, but actress went to Binoche for Blue.

Ayckbourn in 2007:

They all finish with a certain dying fall, except for a couple that go up in mood. In general, the point is that we do have free will and we can choose, but we can’t change unless we make a huge effort. Only Sylvie makes a big change; she’s the one who changes the most. If you don’t change, you just end up in the same place. How many men do we know who end up marrying the same woman again and again! At the end of their lives, people who have unsuccessful relationships will say weren’t they unlucky in love but maybe they were impossible to live with. Anyone who would marry Lionel Hepplewick in Intimate Exchanges must be mad!

I looked up five reviews, and each said the movie grew tiresome and wasn’t inventive enough with its premise – except for J. Rosenbaum, of course.

Resnais’ fascination with a highly theatrical cinema, first broached in Mélo, gets freakishly extended here, with two of the same actors running brittle, virtuosic relays between multiple roles. On the stage, Aykbourn’s plays were meant to be performed over eight consecutive evenings; eliminating the two most “English” scenes — a medieval pageant and a cricket game — Resnais commissioned Jean-Pierre Bacri and Agnès Jaoui, his subsequent writers on Same Old Song, to squeeze this into two two-hour features, to be seen interactively in whatever order the audience prefers. In practice, Resnais reported that most French viewers hedonistically opted for Smoking first. And it appears that what they found more palatable than their Anglo-American counterparts is a principal identified by critic François Thomas as pivotal to Resnais’ later films — an alternation between affection and recoil, identification and distance, sweetness and bitterness reflecting the influence of Follies and other musicals by Stephen Sondheim.