Bérard is putting the “crisis” back into the midlife crisis. We are talking
shattered windshields and twisted metal here. Not surprisingly, he will be
carried away from the car crash, leaving behind a fateful letter and some
profoundly unfinished business behind in Les
Choses de la Vie or The Things of
Life, which screens as part of Rialto Pictures’ program of five
DCP-restored films by the late, great Claude Sautet, opening today in New York (series trailer here).
is largely remembered for his extraordinarily sensitive human dramas, but he
could also stage an impressive car crash. Initially, it is not clear how bad it
is for Bérard, but there will at least be sufficient time for his life to flash
before his eyes. Out of courtesy to the audience, Bérard skips his short pants
years, focusing on his relationship issues with his mistress Hélène Haltig that
came to a head in recent days.
this case, mistress is a slightly misleading term. Although the architect is
still married to his wife Catherine, it is largely a business relationship that
allows them both to carry-on rather openly with their respective lovers. It is
so French, it is hard to understand why he agrees to formally leave Madame Bérard
for Mademoiselle Haltig, a young, beautiful expatriate translator. In fact, Bérard
starts to wonder that himself when Haltig’s jealousy erupts. All this leads to
quite the bloody intersection, both physically and emotionally.
this all sounds familiar, hopefully it is because you saw it when it was
released in 1970. On the other hand, if you are getting flashbacks of Intersection, Mark Rydell’s American
remake starring Richard Gere and Sharon Stone, try your best to forget it. The
film is obviously built around a strong conceit, but in Sautet’s hands it never
feels forced or programmatic. Yet, he exploits the feeling of inevitability for
all its worth, giving us butterflies whenever Bérard steps into his sporty Alfa
trio of Sautet, his frequent leading lady Romy Schneider, and his regular score
composer Philippe Sarde were a francophone art house dream team, joining forces
on several films, including Max et les Ferailleurs and César and Rosalie,
also represented in Rialto’s Sautet package. Michel Piccoli would certainly be
no stranger to any of the three. Much like his disillusioned screenwriter in
Godard’s Contempt, Piccoli radiates
industrial strength world weariness, but in a way that feels mature rather than
self-indulgent. Frankly, the unfaithful and indecisive Bérard could have easily
come across like a fickle jerk, but Piccoli conveys all the older man’s guilt
and uncertainty, making him understandable and maybe even sympathetic
(especially if you’re French).
and Schneider develop convincingly complicated chemistry as Bérard and Haltig.
She is a sophisticated presence and she definitely connects in some emotionally
resonant scenes down the stretch, but the translator is conspicuously subordinate
to the architect in Things’ narrative.
is a tragedy that is not afraid to be tragic—and
rightly so. Sautet and Piccoli had enough middle-age seasoning to relate to the
characters and themes, as well as the experience and instincts to avoid
melodramatic excesses. Sad in a wry and rewarding way, The Things of Life opens today (6/12) in New York, at the Lincoln
Plaza, along with four other restored Sautet films.
Labels: Claude Sautet, French Cinema, Michel Piccoli, Romy Schneider