Review: ‘Nelly & Mr. Arnaud’

Nelly Emmanuelle Beart Pierre Arnaud Michel Serrault Vincent Grandee Jean-Hugues Anglade Jerome Charles Berling Nelly's Mother Daniele Lebrun M. Dolabella Michael Lonsdale Djamel Michel Albertini Isabelle Michele Laroque Jean-Mare Olivier Pajot

Nelly Emmanuelle Beart Pierre Arnaud Michel Serrault Vincent Grandee Jean-Hugues Anglade Jerome Charles Berling Nelly’s Mother Daniele Lebrun M. Dolabella Michael Lonsdale Djamel Michel Albertini Isabelle Michele Laroque Jean-Mare Olivier Pajot

Three years after “A Heart in Winter,” Gallic maestro Claude Sautet comes up with another exquisitely woven tapestry of emotions that dare not speak their name in “Nelly & Mr. Arnaud.” Marked by pointillist playing from Emmanuelle Beart and Michel Serrault, as a young woman and older man whose emotional orbits seem almost willfully out of synch, the movie is essentially an extended conversation whose delights can be savored at the dialogue and observational levels. Connoisseurs of Gallic moviemaking at its most refined will relish this latest outing by the veteran helmer, though the pic’s talky format and deliberate avoidance of neat resolutions may prevent it from reaching the broad arthouse acceptance of “Heart,” especially in North America.

Beart plays Nelly, 25, who’s fed up with her layabout b.f., Jerome (Charles Berling), and is trying to make ends meet with a succession of temporary jobs. One day, through a femme friend, she meets the emotionally remote but gentlemanly Arnaud (Serrault), a retired magistrate in his mid-60s who spontaneously offers her a loan to help out. That night, Nelly tells Jerome she’s moving out.

Arnaud, who’s penning his memoirs, offers Nelly work as a typist at his apartment office. As their relationship grows, she even starts to suggest improvements to the nondescript manuscript. Meanwhile, she’s being courted by Arnaud’s publishers, Vincent (Jean-Hugues Anglade), a relationship that increasingly irks Arnaud, who becomes more and more hungry for personal details and even invites her out for a swanky dinner [7ma deux.[22;27m

Nelly rebels against Arnaud’s seeming arrogance and possessiveness but eventually returns to their working relationship and, after Vincent dumps her, their friendship. Devastated by Vincent’s sudden about-face, Nelly accepts Arnaud’s offer to sleep over at his apartment. That night, the pair realize the depth of their feelings for each other, though the next morning Arnaud still has one more surprise in store for her.

Though the movie is nominally centered on Nelly (and her seemingly unending run of bad luck with men), it’s the character of Arnaud who is the pic’s real center and undergoes the biggest changes. A divorced former judge used to calling the shots and containing his feelings, Arnaud finally finds himself confronted in the autumn of his life with a beautiful young creature whose poise , independence and sexuality are beyond his control.

By distilling the pair’s relationship into a series of conversations, mostly in Arnaud’s apartment, Sautet studiously avoids the expected course of a May-December romance.

AS in the best of his previous pics (even stretching way back to the 1969 “Les Choses de la vie”), Sautet is more interested in the what-could-have-happened than the what-actually-has. Nelly and Arnaud are a classic case of two souls with bad timing, whose paths cross but never really mesh. Pic’s delectably open ending will delight those who don’t like all their T’s crossed and I’s dotted, but will irritate those who like neatly tied conclusions.

Though Serrault dominates every scene every scene he’s in with his portrait of the testy, somewhat spoiled gentleman who’s used to having things his own way , the main surprise on the performance side is Beart. Though never less than exquisite, this often hard-to-read actress not only holds her own opposite Serrault in the dialogue exchanges but also proves surprisingly touching in the pic’s key emotional moments.

Other perfs are well-rounded throughout, particularly Anglade’s ruthless charmer and Michael Lonsdale’s McGuffin-like mystery man from Arnaud’s past. Tech credits are immaculate, with Jean-Francois Robin’s sharp lensing matching the precision of the dialogue. Philippe Sarde’s typically warm, [7mboulevardier[22;27m score could have been used more often to enhance the complex emotions at work.

Nelly & Mr. Arnaud

(FRENCH-ITALIAN-GERMAN)

Production

A Bac Films release (in France) of Les Films Alain Sarde, TFI Films (France)/Cecchi Gorl Cinematografica (Italy)/Prokino (Germany) production. (International sales; Roissy Films, Paris.) Produced by Alain Sarde. Executive producer, Antonie Gannage. Directed by Claude Sautet. Screenplay, Sautet, Yves Ulmann.

Crew

Camera (color), Jean-Francois Robin; editor, Jacqueline Thiedot; music, Philippe Sarde; art direction, Carlos Conti; costume design, Catherine Bouchard, Corinne Jorry; sound (Dolby), Pierre Lenoir; assistant director, Yvon Rouve; casting, Gerard Moulevrier. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival, Sept. 12, 1995. Running time: 105 MIN.
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