×
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

  • Ari Emanuel Endeavor

    Endeavor IPO Filing Offers Details of Company's Financials, Leadership Pay Packages

    Endeavor’s IPO filing Thursday offers a hard look at the company’s financial performance during the past three years during a period of rapid growth for the company that’s home to UFC, WME, Professional Bull Riders and a clutch of other assets. Endeavor is generating solid free cash flow from operations and healthy adjusted earnings for [...]

  • Inside amfAR's Cannes Gala

    Inside amfAR's Cannes Gala: Mariah Carey, Kendall Jenner and Tiffany Trump

    Kendall Jenner caused a commotion when she arrived. Tiffany Trump went unrecognized until a member of the press pointed her out as she made her way down the carpet. And Mariah Carey flew in to perform a couple of songs. Welcome to this year’s AmfAR Gala Cannes, the AIDS organization’s annual — and largest — [...]

  • 'Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo' Review: Abdellatif

    Cannes Film Review: 'Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo'

    A simple but somehow atypical shot opens Abdellatif Kechiche’s new film: a serene closeup of a young woman’s face, as seen through the camera lens of Amir, a budding photographer still finding his perspective. Her expression is ambiguously tranquil, her long hair lightly rustled by a humid breeze, all softly lit by a sinking afternoon [...]

  • Crown Vic

    Thomas Jane's Police Thriller 'Crown Vic' Sells to Screen Media (EXCLUSIVE)

    Screen Media has bought North American rights to writer-director Joel Souza’s police crime-thriller “Crown Vic,” starring Thomas Jane and Luke Kleintank. The distributor closed terms during the Cannes Film Festival amid a competitive bidding situation between seven other suitors. Screen Media plans to release the pic this fall. “Crown Vic” premiered in April at the [...]

  • Colleen Bell

    Colleen Bell Replaces Amy Lemisch as California Film Commission Director

    Veteran entertainment executive and ambassador Colleen Bell will replace Amy Lemisch as director of the California Film Commission. Bell, who was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday, has worked as a consultant since 2017. She was the U.S. ambassador to Hungary from 2014 to 2017. She held several positions at Bell-Phillip Television Productions, including [...]

  • Jon Feltheimer

    Lionsgate Posts Loss, Underperforms Wall Street Expectations

    Lionsgate has posted a quarterly loss and its revenues and operating income have come in under Wall Street projections, despite growth from its premium cable channel, Starz. The studio reported a net loss of $24 million, or 11 cents a share, with adjusted operating income of $103 million for its fourth fiscal quarter ended March [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content