×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Not on the Lips

In a buoyantly entertaining example of everything old made new again, 81-year-old helmer Alain Resnais has taken a popular 1925 Parisian-style operetta and filmed it in a studio. As perversely daring as it is straightforward, pic is essentially a musical comedy. Resnais' reputation and the casting of Audrey Tautou certainly shouldn't hurt offshore sales.

With:
Gilberte Valandray - Sabine Azema Arlette Poumaillac - Isabelle Nanty Huguette Verberie - Audrey Tautou Georges Valandray - Pierre Arditi Mme. Foin - Darry Cowl Charley - Jalil Lespert Faradel - Daniel Prevost Eric Thomson - Lambert Wilson

In a buoyantly entertaining example of everything old made new again, 81-year-old helmer Alain Resnais has taken a popular 1925 Parisian-style operetta and filmed it in a studio. As perversely daring as it is straightforward, “Not on the Lips” is essentially a musical comedy, the result as effortless as it is thoughtful. Curmudgeons may find the exercise outdated, but talent in the service of better-than-average material never goes out of style. Local auds, cajoled by a classy ad campaign, will probably plant a big juicy kiss on pic and continue to court wickets well into the New Year. Resnais’ reputation and the casting of Audrey Tautou certainly shouldn’t hurt offshore sales; but pic’s delights are evident beyond marketing hooks. Thesps do their own singing in live takes. The period sets are gorgeous. The costumes are magnificent. There’s a nifty happy ending. It’s glamorous, funny, suspenseful, anchored in human nature and profoundly silly all at once.

Resnais is sometimes accused of being too remote and cerebral, but “Lips” is popular entertainment purveyed with taste and class. Unlike, say, “Far From Heaven,” “8 Women” or “Down With Love,” he isn’t out to mock, copy or even overtly re-invent anything. Nary a word has been changed from the original libretto.

Frivolous Parisian socialite Gilberte Valandray (Sabine Azema, aces) is happily wed to wealthy steel magnate Georges Valandray (Pierre Arditi, ditto). Although Gilberte is being pursued by an aging Don Juan named Faradel (Daniel Prevost), and by hunky young penniless artist Charley (Jalil Lespert), Georges has complete trust in his wife’s fidelity. He also declares he would not have considered marrying a widow or a divorcee.

Georges’ theory is that a woman is forever blissfully joined to the man who took her virginity, i.e. her first husband. With such conjugal confidence, he refuses to be jealous.

Vivacious Gilberte has no intention of cheating on Georges: She even sings a song about how a harmless flirtation is way more fun than taking a lover. But she does intend to keep from him the inconvenient fact that she was married once before — while in the U.S., to American businessman Eric Thomson. The six-month union was never certified by French authorities, so the marriage is not legally recognized in Gaul. Only Gilberte’s old-maid sister, Arlette (Isabelle Nanty), is in on the secret.

Gilberte and Georges reconfirm their love in a kitchen duet sung in formal attire behind a veil of vapor from a pot of steaming lobsters. Then the fun begins in earnest as Georges mentions he’s invited to dinner a prospective American business associate — none other than Thomson (Lambert Wilson). Unless Arlette can secure Thomson’s total discretion, Gilberte will be in hotter water than the lobsters.

Making pervasive cliches his own, Wilson is as much of a delight as a Yank as he was as the Frenchman in the “Matrix” sequels. The role requires him to speak and sing in a verbally wacky mix of French and English. As the only trained vocalist in the cast, with a solid concert career under his belt, thesp acquits himself well.

So, too, does the rest of the cast. Tautou is fine as Huguette, a family friend with a crush on Charley who’s helped out by Arlette. Azema, wearing a series of slinky, glittering gowns, is perfect as Gilberte, and she and Arditi, who’ve played couples in previous Resnais pics (most notably, “Smoking/No Smoking”) couldn’t be more comfortable or more quietly inventive.

Third act, set in Faradel’s exotic bachelor pad, is full of close calls and potentially incriminating behavior witnessed by a nosy concierge, Mme. Foin. In a stroke of casting genius, latter is played with deadpan cross-dressing precision by male comic vet Darry Cowl.

Fluffy, beautifully designed pic is peppered with enticing visual touches. The camera sometimes looks down from the ceiling, the protags sometimes address the camera directly and, when visitors to the Valandray’s multi-level manse exit, they literally fade away before reaching the virtual stage “wings.”

Operetta boasts a delightful variety of songs, with witty, insouciant lyrics. Preserving the oomph of a live performance, musical director Bruno Fontaine’s arrangements are chipper, melancholy or jazzy, as required.

Libretto freely mocks avant-garde trends in painting and theater. Such touches — along with a song detailing how Americans are arrogant capitalists, countered by things the French supposedly do better — remain relevant to an almost unnerving degree, nearly 80 years after the fact.

Not on the Lips

France - Switzerland

Production: A Pathe release (in France) of an Arena Films presentation of an Arena Films, France 2 Cinema, France 3 Cinema, Arcade (France)/Vega Film (Switzerland) production, with participation of Canal Plus, Cinecinema, TSR and the Fonds d'Action Sacem. (International sales: Pathe Intl., Paris.) Produced by Bruno Pesery. Directed by Alain Resnais. Screenplay, the 1925 operetta "Pas sur la bouche" by Andre Barde and Maurice Yvain.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Renato Berta; editor, Herve de Luze; music, Maurice Yvain; orchestrations-additional music, Bruno Fontaine; production designer, Jacques Saulnier; set decorator, Solange Zeitoun; costume designer, Jackie Budin; sound (Dolby), Jean-Marie Blondel, Gerard Hardy, Gerard Lamps; associate producer, Ruth Waldburger; assistant director, Laurent Herbiet. Reviewed at Pathe screening room, Paris, Nov. 18, 2003. Running time: 117 MIN.

With: Gilberte Valandray - Sabine Azema Arlette Poumaillac - Isabelle Nanty Huguette Verberie - Audrey Tautou Georges Valandray - Pierre Arditi Mme. Foin - Darry Cowl Charley - Jalil Lespert Faradel - Daniel Prevost Eric Thomson - Lambert Wilson

More Film

  • Actress Shirley MacLaine poses at the

    Shirley MacLaine Selected for AARP Career Achievement Award

    Shirley MacLaine has been selected as the recipient of the AARP’s 2018 Movies for Grownups Career Achievement Award. MacLaine will be honored at the 18th annual Movies for Grownups Awards ceremony on Feb. 4 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. More Reviews Film Review: 'The Wedding' Film Review: 'Malila: The Farewell Flower' [...]

  • 'Where'd You Go, Bernadette' Trailer: Cate

    Cate Blanchett Disappears in 'Where’d You Go, Bernadette' First Trailer

    Cate Blanchett goes missing in the first trailer for Richard Linklater’s latest film, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette.” Based on Maria Semple’s 2012 novel, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” follows agoraphobic architect Bernadette Fox (Blanchett), who disappears just before a family trip to Antarctica. More Reviews Film Review: 'The Wedding' Film Review: 'Malila: The Farewell Flower' “Something unexpected [...]

  • Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman in

    'The Favourite' Leads London Critics' Circle Nominations

    Yorgos Lanthimos’ dark historical comedy “The Favourite” lived up to its title with the London Film Critics’ Circle on Tuesday, nabbing 10 awards nominations from the group – twice as many as its nearest rivals. Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma,” Lynne Ramsay’s “You Were Never Really Here,” Rupert Everett’s “The Happy Prince” and Pawel Pawlikowski’s European Film [...]

  • Picture Tree Intl. Rolls Out Pre-Sales

    Berlin: Picture Tree Intl. Rolls Out Pre-Sales on B.O. Hit ‘100 Things’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    MADRID — In the long run-up to February’s Berlin Festival, Picture Tree Intl. has rolled out multiple pre-sales on “100 Things,” which Warner Bros. Pictures bowed in Germany on Dec. 6 to a robust first eight-day €2.7 million ($3.07 million). “100 Things” will receive a market screening at the Berlinale’s European Film Market. More Reviews [...]

  • Mid 90s

    Jonah Hill's 'mid90s,' Pauline Kael Documentary to Screen in Berlin's Panorama Section

    Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, “mid90s,” about a 13-year-old skateboarder’s coming of age, and a documentary on influential film critic Pauline Kael are among the works that will screen in the Panorama section of the upcoming Berlin Film Festival. Films starring Tilda Swinton and Jamie Bell and titles from countries including Israel, Brazil and Japan were [...]

  • 'Your Name' Director Makoto Shinkai Readies

    ‘Your Name' Director Makoto Shinkai Readies 'Weathering'

    Three years after the animation “Your Name” began its long triumphant reign over the Japanese and international box office, its director Makoto Shinkai has announced his next animated feature. Titled “Weathering With You,” the film will arrive in theaters in Japan on July 19 of next year, with Toho distributing. Set in a world where [...]

  • Berlin: The Match Factory Boards New

    Berlin: The Match Factory Boards Competition Titles From Fatih Akin, Emin Alper (EXCLUSIVE)

    German indie powerhouse The Match Factory will handle world sales on two Berlin Film Festival competition titles: German director Fatih Akin’s serial-killer chiller “The Golden Glove” and Turkish director Emin Alper’s family drama “A Tale of Three Sisters.”  Akin, a Hamburg native whose “Head-On” won the Golden Bear in 2004, is returning to the Berlinale [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content