Gifted French comedienne Valerie Lemercier makes a spirited helming debut with a studio-set remake of Sacha Guitry's 1938 four-hander "Quadrille." Witty, wordy ode to the playful joys of seduction is updated only in that the colors are vivid and the lensing and sound crisp. The opening credits, score, decors, costumes and Sandrine Kiberlain's perf are delectable, yet the overall effort is inconsequential and slightly overlong. Widescreen enterprise is a treat on the bigscreen, but will meet most of its audience on TV. Big-city magazine editor Philippe de Morannes (Andre Dussollier) has been living for six years with Paulette Nanteuil (Lemercier), the toast of the Paris stage. Via sterling verbiage, Philippe flirts with Paulette's close friend, ambitious young journalist Claudine Andre (Kiberlain), while the two scribes wait for American film star Carl Herickson (Sergio Castellitto) to return to his lush hotel suite. Philippe is planning a book on the international heartthrob, and Claudine is on hand to do an interview for her paper.
Carl mentions he’d like to see a play while in town, Philippe recommends Paulette’s latest triumph, and, through a series of amusing incidents including some very creative fibbing over the telephone, the actress ends up accompanying the actor to his suite, where she willingly succumbs to his considerable charm.
Philippe and Paulette have always been faithful to each other, with the understanding that should either party wish to stray, each will give the other one day’s notice. Paulette claims, truthfully, that she had no intention of sleeping with Carl, and thus, Philippe has not been cuckolded. Their morning-after confrontation and debate about the gray area between “faithful” and “unfaithful” is a gem.
The French can’t be faulted for wanting to dust off the ironic examinations of human foibles in which Guitry specialized. And if this remake — one in a series plotted by producer Daniel Toscan du Plantier and his co-conspirators — brings Guitry to another generation or two, so much the better.
Nevertheless, what was impertinent and worldly in “Quadrille” back in 1938 is a notch less than daring nowadays. And cinematically, there’s only so much one can do with a two-set chamber comedy. Whereas the deliberate theatricality of “Melo” in Alain Resnais’ hands proved transcendent, Lemercier’s touch is a bit clunkier.
Guitry’s banter is exquisitely enshrined in a delightfully retro decor sketched — literally — by illustrator Pierre Le Tan. Many a furnishing, from the chest of drawers to the wall sconces, is “drawn”; the colors bright yellow, turquoise, red, violet and lime-green predominate; and the operative word for the costumes is “fabulous.” Castellitto’s lilting accent gives him just the right seductive charm.
Kiberlain, so lanky and supple as to appear boneless, routinely out-quirks the resoundingly quirky Lemercier. Dussollier adds a slight touch of world-weary gravity when all around him are flighty.
Bertrand Burgalat’s jaunty score is a delight in lush, perfectly dosed snippets.