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La Comedie Francaise, Ou L’Amour Joue

La Comedie Francaise, Ou L'amour Joue (Sun. (1), PBS, 9 p.m.-12:40 a.m.) A Zipporah Films, La Sept/Arte, France 3, La Compagnie des Phares et Ballses, Ideal Audience production. Produced by Frederick Wiseman, Pierre-Olivier Barbet, T. Celal, Jean Labib, Dominique Bourgois. Directed, edited by Frederick Wiseman. Camera (color), John Davey; sound, Wiseman. Frederick Wiseman's epic-length study of the legendary French theatrical troupe La Comedie Francaise may be the first film the documentarian has done that could reasonably be called an audience pleaser. While it raises some interesting and pointed questions about his documentary style, this is a work that should delight Francophones and Francophiles. Wiseman continues in the form he has helped pioneer: no narration, no talking heads, just point the camera and record. The goal is to limit interpretation to the selection of what to film and how to edit the pieces together. Filming in the winter of 1994-95, Wiseman shows the actors preparing the four plays of their theatrical season, from rehearsals to performance. We get a limited view of the backstage world, focusing primarily on the actors and administrators. At one point the electricians are threatening a strike, but we know this only from hearing administrators discuss it. Wiseman uncovers some fascinating material. In one extended scene, actor Roland Bertin argues over a phrase in Moliere's "Don Juan" and whether "tout de meme" ("just the same") would have the same meaning in the 17th century that it has today.Sometimes Wiseman strikes gold: At the 100th birthday celebration of the late Madame Saillard, the former actress sits slumped in her seat, barely aware as some local official makes a ponderous statement. Then Catherine Samie, a senior member of the current cast, gets up to speak and Saillard comes to life as the two reminisce about Saillard's roles from half a century before. The problem, as always, is the lack of context. Wiseman studiously declines to provide any interpretation of what he presents, and the film is entirely in French, necessitating subtitles for non-Gallic auds. There are scenes in which the simplest provision of context would make a crucial difference. For example, at the film's start and finish Wiseman shows the entire company onstage standing around a bust. One at a time the actors step forward and utter some witticism. What does it mean? What's going on? It turns out (if one reads the PBS press release) that this is how the troupe celebrates Moliere's birthday. A single title indicating what is going on would allow the viewer to make sense of this otherwise incomprehensible scene. But unlike his other films, Wiseman here is blessed with a "cast" composed largely of actors. Even offstage they know how to play to an audience, and they make the film much more entertaining than the average docu.

La Comedie Francaise, Ou L’amour Joue (Sun. (1), PBS, 9 p.m.-12:40 a.m.) A Zipporah Films, La Sept/Arte, France 3, La Compagnie des Phares et Ballses, Ideal Audience production. Produced by Frederick Wiseman, Pierre-Olivier Barbet, T. Celal, Jean Labib, Dominique Bourgois. Directed, edited by Frederick Wiseman. Camera (color), John Davey; sound, Wiseman. Frederick Wiseman’s epic-length study of the legendary French theatrical troupe La Comedie Francaise may be the first film the documentarian has done that could reasonably be called an audience pleaser. While it raises some interesting and pointed questions about his documentary style, this is a work that should delight Francophones and Francophiles. Wiseman continues in the form he has helped pioneer: no narration, no talking heads, just point the camera and record. The goal is to limit interpretation to the selection of what to film and how to edit the pieces together. Filming in the winter of 1994-95, Wiseman shows the actors preparing the four plays of their theatrical season, from rehearsals to performance. We get a limited view of the backstage world, focusing primarily on the actors and administrators. At one point the electricians are threatening a strike, but we know this only from hearing administrators discuss it. Wiseman uncovers some fascinating material. In one extended scene, actor Roland Bertin argues over a phrase in Moliere’s “Don Juan” and whether “tout de meme” (“just the same”) would have the same meaning in the 17th century that it has today.Sometimes Wiseman strikes gold: At the 100th birthday celebration of the late Madame Saillard, the former actress sits slumped in her seat, barely aware as some local official makes a ponderous statement. Then Catherine Samie, a senior member of the current cast, gets up to speak and Saillard comes to life as the two reminisce about Saillard’s roles from half a century before. The problem, as always, is the lack of context. Wiseman studiously declines to provide any interpretation of what he presents, and the film is entirely in French, necessitating subtitles for non-Gallic auds. There are scenes in which the simplest provision of context would make a crucial difference. For example, at the film’s start and finish Wiseman shows the entire company onstage standing around a bust. One at a time the actors step forward and utter some witticism. What does it mean? What’s going on? It turns out (if one reads the PBS press release) that this is how the troupe celebrates Moliere’s birthday. A single title indicating what is going on would allow the viewer to make sense of this otherwise incomprehensible scene. But unlike his other films, Wiseman here is blessed with a “cast” composed largely of actors. Even offstage they know how to play to an audience, and they make the film much more entertaining than the average docu.

La Comedie Francaise, Ou L'Amour Joue

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