Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s film of romantic love set in German occupied France has the look and feel of a big budget production—and yet has come and gone quickly from our local art house theater. Thus is the fate of so many subtitled films, no matter how worthy. This is one to look for when it is released on video!
Isabelle Adjani is delightful as spoiled Viviane Denvers, whose visage is recognized everywhere because of her starring roles in film. When she kills a would-be lover she charms Frederic (Gregori Derangere), a discarded lover, to dispose of the body. She is so self-centered that even as they drag to the car the dead body she asks Frederic if he liked her recent film. (Reminds me of the crazy sex scene in Network in which Fay Dunaway’s ratings-obsessed career TV executive, atop her lover prattles on about the current ratings of her programs.)
The current man Viviane has wound around her petite finger is Jean-Etienne Beaufort (a very slimmed down Gerard Depardieu), an important member of the French cabinet. She cannot understand why he is impatient to get back to the Cabinet meetings she continually interrupts—she and the French government have fled the Nazi advance on Paris and are in Bordeaux. After all, the Cabinet is merely discussing whether to surrender to the Germans or not, surely not as important as soliciting his aid for her personal comfort during her refugee status.
Also in Bordeaux are Professor Kopolski (Jean-Marc Stehle) and his young assistant Camille (Virginie Ledoyen), anxious to leave France with the precious bottles of heavy water the scientist has produced. He fears that if the bottles fall into the hands of the Nazis, it will increase their chances of producing a nuclear weapon. Frederic becomes involved with them, assisting in some narrow escapes. He is torn between his infatuation with Viviane and a growing attraction to the resourceful Camille. Hard on their heels is Alex Winckler (Peter Coyote), whose work as a journalist we soon see is but a cover for his spying for the Nazis. Mixing thrills with comedy, the film lays bare the absurdities and the dramas of people caught up in the madness of war. The worst is brought out in some, while others, discovering unforeseen courage, loyalty and love within themselves, rise to greatness.