×

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 Curmudgeons may find the exercise outdated, but talent in the service of better-than-average material never goes out of style.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

  • Themba Ntuli and Ashley Lazarus

    Ashley Lazarus, Director of Apartheid-Era Cult Classic, Returns to Screen

    DURBAN–Director Ashley Lazarus, whose film about the interracial friendship between two young boys during the apartheid era became a South African cult classic in the 1970s, is set to return to the big screen with a film that builds on his life-long passion for early-childhood education. “Teacher Wanted” is the inspirational story of a teacher [...]

  • Channing Tatum

    Channing Tatum's Free Association Partners With Atwater Capital for Film Development Fund

    Free Association, a production company led by Channing Tatum, Peter Kiernan and Reid Carolin, has entered into a film development fund with Atwater Capital. The four-year $2 million revolving fund stipulates that Atwater will finance a minimum of five films with Free Association. Michael Parets, VP of production, will oversee the deal. Free Association will [...]

  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    Box Office: Tarantino's 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' Takes on 'Lion King'

    Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” will have to take on much more than a changing showbiz landscape. This weekend, the washed-up actor and his majordomo are battling Disney’s juggernaut “The Lion King” at the domestic box office. Tarantino’s R-rated auteur [...]

  • Margot Robbie Once Upon a Time

    Margot Robbie Says 'Barbie' Movie Will Put 'Positivity' Into the World

    Over the last 10 years, Margot Robbie has stepped into the skates of Tonya Harding, taken up the mantle of Harley Quinn and, next up, she’s playing the world’s most famous doll, Barbie. The live-action film is due out in 2020 and set to be written by Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach, while Robbie serves [...]

  • 2018 NALIP Gala

    National Association of Latino Independent Producers Celebrates Its 20th Anniversary

    Ben Lopez has seen the future of the entertainment industry, and says it is the Latinx community. “In the next 20 years, we’re going to be prioritized — because not only will we have the numbers demographic-wise, we’ll have the spending power,” says Lopez, the executive director of the National Assn. of Latino Independent Producers, [...]

  • 'Patrick Melrose' TV show premiere

    Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Foy to Star in 'Louis Wain'

    Benedict Cumberbatch (“Avengers: Endgame”) and Claire Foy (“The Crown”) are set to star in “Louis Wain,” a biopic of the prolific English artist who rose to prominence at the end of the 19th century. “Louis Wain” will start shooting on Aug. 10 with BAFTA-nominated Will Sharpe (“Flowers”) directing the film, which was written by Sharpe [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content