Review: ‘Aux Petits Bonheurs’

Michel Deville's latest pic is a sly, sexy ensemble piece that should make international arthouse owners happy. Leisurely, sometimes whimsical tale of four women Easter vacationing with the men in their lives unspools in a spacious country house, tailor-made for voyeurism, overheard conversations and creaking bedsprings.

Michel Deville’s latest pic is a sly, sexy ensemble piece that should make international arthouse owners happy. Leisurely, sometimes whimsical tale of four women Easter vacationing with the men in their lives unspools in a spacious country house, tailor-made for voyeurism, overheard conversations and creaking bedsprings.

Catalyst to events is Helene (Anemone), 43, returning to the house where as a teenager she spent one memorable night of romance. Arriving, she spies Ariane (Nicole Garcia) and Matthieu (Francois Marthouret) making passionate love against a piano while Lena (Hanna Schygulla) sobs behind a door.

Taking such proceedings in stride, Helene is soon made to feel at home by Ariane’s husband, amateur photog Pierre (Andre Dussollier). Helene is intent on locating the love of her life 25 years after the event, and all of the house’s occupants agree to join in the manhunt.

The rest of the crowd includes Matthieu’s young wife, Sabine (Michele Laroque), desperate to have a child despite her husband’s refusal; Lena’s lover, Marc (Xavier Beauvois), 23 years her junior; Lena’s precocious son, Michel; and Cecile (Sylvie Laporte), a bright inquisitive black woman who, summoned to babysit by mistake, stays on to pepper the proceedings with jaunty keyboard melodies by 19th century composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk.

Thanks to scripter Rosalinde Deville having the entire cast introduce themselves for Helene’s benefit, viewers know in one fell swoop who’s sleeping with whom, plus their professions, ages and aspirations. One can then sit back and enjoy the interlocking plot machinations that are at once deceptively simple and deliciously complex.

Narrative spans four days, tagged on-screen as “Helene’s Arrival,””Ariane’s Day,””Sabine’s Day,” and “Lena’s Day.” Though the camera pays special attention to the designated character in each seg, the full cast weaves in and out of each.

As the characters lounge around, shop, prepare meals and plan a party, Anemone is the catalyst to promiscuous Garcia, lovesick Schygulla, broody Laroque, faithful Dussollier, youthful Beauvois and reluctant Marthouret figuring out what they truly want.

Pic has the relaxed, lyrical pace of a continuous vacation among friends, with a strong undercurrent of sex. There’s much partial disrobing, and trading and borrowing of clothing, by both sexes.

Deville trademark of spirited wordplay is much in evidence, including an elaborate group discussion of gradations of meaning between “slut,””bitch” and “bimbo.” Anemone and Laroque also have their verbal way with a hapless male victim.

Perfs and lensing are fine. Use of pleasant music by Gottschalk helps to make the couplings and uncouplings appear fitting and inevitable.

Aux Petits Bonheurs

(FRENCH)

Production

An AMLF release of an Elefilm/France 3 Cinema/AMLF production. (International sales: Studio Canal Plus, Paris.) Produced by Rosalinde Deville. Directed by Michel Deville. Screenplay, Rosalinde Deville.

Crew

Camera (color), Martial Thury, Eric Faucherre; editor, Raymonde Guyot; music, selections from works of Louis Moreau Gottschalk; production design, Thierry Leproust;set decoration, Isabelle Arnal; costume design, Cecile Balme; sound (Dolby), Jean Minando, Francois Groult. Reviewed at AMLF screening room, Paris, Dec. 20, 1993. Running time: 102 MIN.

With

Helene ... Anemone Marc ... Xavier Beauvois Pierre ... Andre Dussollier Ariane ... Nicole Garcia Cecile ... Sylvie Laporte Sabine ... Michele Laroque Matthieu ... Francois Marthouret Lena ... Hanna Schygulla Michel ... Victor Miletic Bertrand ... Patrick Chesnais
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