Meinthe … Jean-Pierre Marielle
Victor Chmara … Hippolyte Girardot
Yvonne Jacquet … Sandra Majani
Yvonne’s Uncle … Richard Bohringer
After the delectably crude male buddy humor of “Tango,” Patrice Leconte returns in “The Scent of Yvonne” to a variation on the steamy, dreamy melancholy that permeated “The Hairdresser’s Husband.” International arthouse exposure seems likely for this stunningly lensed widescreen memoir captured at the intersection of insouciance and longing.
Deceptively simple tale concerning one man’s haunted reminiscence of an intense romance in the summer of 1958 purrs along thanks to fine performances and Leconte’s stylistic assurance.
Pic is told in flashback as Victor (Hippolyte Girardot) gazes into what appears to be a bonfire — but is something else entirely — and thinks back a few years to the fateful day he met lovely young Yvonne (Sandra Majani) in the lobby of a luxury hotel on the shores of Lake Geneva.
Jean-Pierre Marielle makes a terrific entrance as Dr. Meinthe, a classy but flamboyant homosexual physician who provides unstated services in connection with the Algerian war. Because of the war, draft-dodging Victor is living under an assumed identity in a boarding house not far from Switzerland.
Yvonne, Victor and Meinthe form a trio of co-conspirators who enjoy an unhurried life of elegance and spirited mockery. Pic plumbs an era before the sexual revolution when much was tacitly forbidden and thereby all the more delicious.
Sensual love scenes between Yvonne and Victor are full of leisurely preliminaries and prolonged caresses. Using widescreen to isolate meaningful gestures, Eduardo Serra’s camera lingers on evocative details: a silk scarf, a teasingly placed knee, a jukebox tonearm.
A splendidly staged set piece of snotty local prize competition for the best combo of luxury car, male driver and female passenger-with-dog is the very essence of monied leisure, ’50s- style.
Dutch-born former model Majani brings an unstudied grace to the flighty Yvonne. Girardot pulls off the laid-back paranoia of a reserved soul who admits that he does “nothing” for a living. Marielle imparts great dignity and tenderness to his tastefully flashy, wide-ranging role. Richard Bohringer makes a down-to-earth contribution as Yvonne’s garage-owning uncle.
Beautifully integrated score has an appropriate tinge of melancholy, offset by multiple Celia Cruz songs. Novel by prolific author Patrick Modiano, who co-wrote “Lacombe Lucien” with Louis Malle, dates from 1975.