×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

A Couch in New York

Belgian director Chantal Akerman and stars William Hurt and Juliette Binoche are not names automatically associated with screwball romantic comedy, and "A Couch in New York" illustrates why. Spun from the rather pedestrian premise of a cross-cultural meeting of opposites who attract, mostly studio-shot confection of amour and analysis rarely puts a foot right.

With:
Henry Harriston - William Hurt
Beatrice Saulnier - Juliette Binoche
Dennis - Paul Guilfoyle
Anne - Stephanie Buttle
Campton - Richard Jenkins
Tim - Kent Broadhurst
Stein - Henry Bean
Lisbeth - Barbara Garrick
Jerome - Bernard Breuse
(English and French dialogue)

Belgian director Chantal Akerman and stars William Hurt and Juliette Binoche are not names automatically associated with screwball romantic comedy, and “A Couch in New York” illustrates why. Spun from the rather pedestrian premise of a cross-cultural meeting of opposites who attract, and saddled with dialogue only a screenwriter’s mother could love, this lifeless, mostly studio-shot confection of amour and analysis rarely puts a foot right. Prospects in some Euro territories (where it has been heavily pre-sold) look rosier than in the U.S., where theatrical pickup appears doubtful.

Binoche plays Beatrice, a free-spirited French dancer who responds to an ad for a temporary New York-Paris apartment swap placed by Hurt’s uptight Manhattan psychoanalyst Henry. Without meeting, the duo cross the Atlantic and set up house — she in the immaculate Upper East Side home in which he also receives clients, and he in her noisy, messy, run-down pied-a-terre.

Having fled the pressures of New York, his whining patients, his family and an engagement turned sour, Henry hopes Paris will provide food for his undernourished soul. Instead he is plagued by the demands of the string of heartsick Romeos abandoned by Beatrice. Meanwhile, she starts receiving Henry’s clients, who soon find her brand of ad hoc therapy more comforting than their regular shrink’s professional detachment.

Returning home unannounced, Henry stops by the apartment for his mail and is surprised to find his patients coming and going, looking relatively perky, and his normally morose, lazy dog, frolicking contentedly at Beatrice’s side. Intrigued by the woman, he poses as a couch case, enabling him to get close to her without revealing his identity. Her mixture of Freud for beginners, frankness and intuitive understanding encourages him to let down his guard, and love sneaks up on both of them.

Predictable romantic froth of this kind can be quite disarming with the right lightness of touch and sufficiently witty dialogue. “Couch,” however, comes up short on both counts. Akerman attempts to create a magical atmosphere akin to that of a musical, with blithely improbable narrative shortcuts and fairy-tale skies, but the result is flat and labored.

Several trademark characteristics of the director are in evidence: the accent on artifice; the vaguely stylized, unrealistic approach to performance; the long , slow takes and lengthy walking-and-talking tracking sequences. But the film has no forward motion.

Interiors were shot at Berlin’s Babelsberg Studios, and while these and the sprinkling of location work in Paris and Manhattan are elegantly photographed by Dietrich Lohmann with a rich, heightened sense of color, they contribute to the feeling that this artificial world could be easily contained on a stage.

The relative unimportance of the peripheral characters also keeps the pic’s scope narrow. The main characters each have a confidant: Beatrice’s dancer friend (Stephanie Buttle) and Henry’s Brooklyn buddy (Paul Guilfoyle). Both get considerable screen time, but, basically, this is a two-handed chamber piece.

Hurt and Binoche appear awkward in their roles, and the gradual melting of his aloofness and her spontaneity into a middle ground where sparks ignite is achieved rather mechanically. Binoche especially appears out of place; while the French thesp has consistently held her own as an intense, solemn beauty in pics such as “The Horseman on the Roof,””Damage” and “Three Colors: Blue,” her casting as an adorably irresponsible kook stretches credibility to the limit.

A Couch in New York

French-Belgian-German

Production: A Les Films Balenciaga, France 2 Cinema, M6 Films (Paris)/Paradise Films, RTBF-Television Belge (Brussels)/Babelsberg Film Produktion (Berlin) production, with participation of Canal Plus, Film Board Berlin Brandenburg. (International sales: UGC DA Intl., France.) Produced by Regine Konckier, Jean-Luc Ormieres. Executive producer (New York), RobinO'Hara. Co-producers, Diana Elbaum, Jacqueline Pierreux, Ingrid Windisch. Directed by Chantal Akerman. Screenplay, Akerman, Jean-Louis Benoit.

Crew: Camera (color), Dietrich Lohmann; editor, Claire Atherton; music, Paolo Conte, Sonia Atherton; production design, Christian Marti; art direction, Patricia Woodbridge; costume design, Stephane Rollot, Virginie Montel, Leslie Yarmo; sound (Dolby), Pierre Mertens, Gerard Lamps; assistant director, Gabriel Julien-Laferriere. Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (noncompeting), Feb. 2, 1996. Running time: 109 MIN.

With: Henry Harriston - William Hurt
Beatrice Saulnier - Juliette Binoche
Dennis - Paul Guilfoyle
Anne - Stephanie Buttle
Campton - Richard Jenkins
Tim - Kent Broadhurst
Stein - Henry Bean
Lisbeth - Barbara Garrick
Jerome - Bernard Breuse
(English and French dialogue)

More Film

  • SF Studios Acquires Norwegian Production Company

    SF Studios Acquires Norwegian Production Company Paradox

    SF Studios has acquired Paradox, the well-established Scandinavian company behind Erik Poppe’s “U-July 22,” to launch Norwegian production operations. SF Studios, which will be celebrating its centenary next year, has up until now focused on the production of feature films and drama series in Sweden and Denmark. The company also boasts distribution operations in Norway [...]

  • Osopez Pitches Toon Adult comedy 'Pleasefixers'

    Animation!: Costa Rica's Osopez Pitches 'The Pleasefixers'

    Costa Rican animation studio Osopez is developing 3D CGI black comedy series “The Pleasefixers,” its most ambitious project to date, which has been selected for pitching at Ventana Sur’s 3rd Animation! showcase. Co-created by Osopez’s Ariel Arburola and Carlos Redondo, the 12-episode, 23-minute TV show targets young adults and adults, aged 18-34. “Pleasefixers” follows a [...]

  • ‘The Goalkeeper’s’ Gory Patiño Teams With

    ‘The Goalkeeper’s’ Gory Patiño Teams with Luis Reneo on ‘Pseudo’

    Bolivia’s Gory Patiño, writer-director for his country’s Academy Award submission “The Goalkeeper” – also the highest grossing Bolivian film in 15 years – and his frequent filmmaking partner, Spain’s Luis Reneo, are participating in this year’s Ventana Sur films in progress section with their socio-political thriller “Pseudo.” The project was also selected as a finalist [...]

  • Roy Ashton

    Ventana Sur: The Gersh Agency’s Roy Ashton Talks Pitching 101

    BUENOS AIRES — Roy Ashton, responsible for packaging and selling projects to markets and operators such as Amazon for Hollywood’s The Gersh Agency, spoke to a standing-room-only crowd about the process of pitching successfully to the U.S. market ahead of a script workshop he attended Tuesday afternoon. Ashton emphasized the draw of storytelling on an international [...]

  • Ainbo

    Ventana Sur: CMG Pre-Sells ‘Ainbo’ to Over Half the World (EXCLUSIVE)

    BUENOS AIRES — Marking what looks very much like a new record for animation in Latin America, Edward Noeltner’s Cinema Management Group, the sales company behind Oscar-nominated “Loving Vincent,” has pre-sold “Ainbo – Spirit of the Amazon” to over half the planet. “Ainbo” was picked up by CMG in January 2017 off the first edition [...]

  • Breaking Glass Picks Up Romantic Drama

    Ventana Sur: Breaking Glass Picks up Threesome Drama ‘We Are Three’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    Breaking Glass Pictures has clinched North American rights to Argentine helmer-scribe Marcelo Briem Stamm’s ménage-a-trois drama “We Are Three,” (“Somos Tr3s”), which it first spotted at the Buenos Aires’ 2017 Ventana Sur. Breaking Glass CEO Rich Wolff and Ida Martins of Media Luna New Films closed the deal at this year’s Ventana Sur. The film’s [...]

  • Chile’s Powerful Producers Assn. Aims For

    Ventana Sur: Chile’s Producers Look to Take Industry to Next Level

    BUENOS AIRES — Oscar-winning Chilean producer Juan de Dios Larraín (“A Fantastic Woman”), Sebastián Freund, co-creator of Chile’s biggest ever B.O. hit, “Stefan vs. Kramer,” and Gabriela Sandoval, co-director of Sanfic, Chile’s biggest film event, Sanfic festival, are joining forces to haul Chile’s much vaunted cinema into the 21st century. They will be joined by [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content