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All Men Are Mortal

Set in France just after World War II, story centers on Regina(Irene Jacob), a celebrated stage actress and temperamental diva, as she assays title role of "Hamlet," aspiring to the legendary status of Sarah Bernhardt. She's involved in a relationship with a black musician, but clearly something crucial is missing from her life -- personal fulfillment and some sense of stability.

Set in France just after World War II, story centers on Regina(Irene Jacob), a celebrated stage actress and temperamental diva, as she assays title role of “Hamlet,” aspiring to the legendary status of Sarah Bernhardt. She’s involved in a relationship with a black musician, but clearly something crucial is missing from her life — personal fulfillment and some sense of stability.

During a triumphant provincial tour, Regina encounters a mysterious stranger, Fosca (Stephen Rea), a man totally oblivious to the outside world and its mundane pleasures. Assisted by her loyal dresser (Marianne Sagebrecht), Regina breaks into Fosca’s room, only to find an empty space, with no clothes or belongings save some papers indicating he’s an amnesia patient.

Regina follows him and a timid relationship evolves. In their mutually inspiring rendezvous, which forms the dramatic core of the film, they exchange ideas and feelings about the nature of love, the meaning of life and death.

Yarn captures marvelously the zeitgeist of the postwar years: the roots of the existential movement that Sartre and de Beauvoir founded, the stimulating cafe culture, the smoky jazz clubs populated by black musicians.

Pic’s most impressive aspect is its writing. Scripters retained only the first part of the book and changed the p.o.v. from male to female while quite authentically conveying the era’s ferment as well as the characters’ idiosyncratic personalities.

Helmer de Jong spices the proceedings with some drollery and wit, but overall his direction is unassured, failing to provide his rambling pic with the finely modulated tempo and mood it requires. Meanwhile, the acting is uneven.

Of the two leads, only Rea renders the requisite eccentricity in an extremely demanding role that calls for equal measures of sanity and lunacy, innocence and disenchantment. But the film exposes Jacob’s limitations as an actress. Though luminously beautiful, she lacks the range and depth to play a temperamental diva.

Due to budgetary constraints, pic was largely shot in Budapest, but it has a good period feel, enhanced by Bruno de Keyser’s lensing and Ben van Os’ exquisite production design.

All Men Are Mortal

(Romantic comedy-drama -- British-Dutch-French -- Color)

Production: A Nova Films production. Produced by Matthijs van Heijningen, Rudolf Wichmann. Directed by Ate de Jong. Screenplay, de Jong, Olwen Wymark, Steven Gaydos, based on the novel by Simone de Beauvoir. Camera (color), Bruno de Keyzer; editor, Nicolas Gaster; production design, Ben van Os; sound (Dolby), Godfrey Kirby. Reviewed at Seattle Film Fest, June 8, 1995. (Also in Cannes Film Festival market.) Running time: 94 min. Fosca ... Stephen Rea Regina ... Irene Jacob Annie ... Marianne Sagebrecht Francoise ... Chiara Mastroianni Based on Simone de Beauvoir's novel, "All Men Are Mortal" is an eccentric rendition of amour fou , a whimsical yet philosophical meditation on love, mortality and other existential issues rarely tackled onscreen these days. Headed by a mixed-bag international cast, ambitious pic is appealing inan idiosyncratic way and has some potential on the fest and arthouse circuits, but commercial outlook appears negligible stateside. Though execution falls short of intent, filmmakers deserve credit for their commitment to make the sort of picture that never would have been made in the U.S. and is seldom produced even in Europe. This is a romantic film of ideas, peppered with shards of sophisticated humor and detached irony.

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