Mélo (1986, Alain Resnais)

Set in 1926. The same cast as Love Unto Death – again putting Sabine Azema together with Pierre Arditi. This time they are happily married until Andre Dussolier comes around to visit, in a half-hour dinner-conversation opening scene. Sabine beins a passionate affair with Andre, her husband’s old classmate at music school, now an accomplished violinist. Unlike Love Unto Death (which I think I prefer), the only music we hear is played by the characters.

A red curtain declares the start of act 2. Pierre is sick, has been sick for a couple weeks, and cousin Fanny Ardant calls a doctor one day while Sabine is away. This is trouble because he starts asking questions, like what are the drops that Sabine has been giving her husband ever since shortly before he became ill. On top of Pierre’s illness, his wife is becoming hostile, disappearing for long periods of time.

Red curtain, act 3. Sabine killed herself three years earlier and her cousin Fanny has married Pierre, and knows about her cousin’s affair with the violinist. She tries to keep the secret from Pierre but he suspects, visits Andre and challenges him. Andre holds his own, never admits the affair, and Pierre drops it. Movie seems to end on a hopeful, reconcilatory note as they play music together.

A small-scale, controlled film, with theatrical staging (just a few locations) but thoughtful camera work. The girl cheating while her man is performing his music reminds me of To Be Or Not To Be (or Unfaithfully Yours). Sabine and Pierre won Cesar awards, but Resnais lost to Alain Cavalier and Therese.

I was going to choose something to quote from J. Rosenbaum’s 1988 article on the film, reprinted in Placing Movies, but it’s such a long and thoughtful piece, I don’t feel like chopping bits out of it.