Alain Resnais’s Gallic transposition of British playwright Alan Ayckbourn’s Private Fears in Public Places is a masterful trifle. Take that as damning faint praise if you will: Ayckbourn’s source material is less than slight and screenwriter Jean-Michel Ribes doesn’t rethink much beyond the change of locale, leaving Resnais, cinematographer Eric Gautier, and a terrific cast to pick up the slack. There’s more than a whiff of contempt in the way Ayckbourn conceives his seven upper-class characters, all of whom circle in and out of each others’ lives with contrived dramaturgical abandon, but Resnais’s inquiry into their tragicomic malaise is genuine, at best enraptured. The director’s use of the widescreen frame is unparalleled; from the opening god’s eye images of a blizzard-obstructed Paris (made all the more alien by X-Files composer Mark Snow’s minimalist synth score) Resnais is in glorious control of the medium, which makes for an odd fit with Ayckbourn’s unenlightening comedy of manners. It’s a strangely fascinating display of garish, color-coded alienation—Antonioni by way of Tashlin—to which Resnais adds a deeply felt Catholic undercurrent that, every so often, makes itself beautifully explicit (as in the digressive moment where Gautier’s camera explores a showroom apartment’s cathedral ceilings or via an impromptu indoor snowfall that acts as a miraculous backdrop to a spiritually searching monologue—one of two—by Resnais regular Pierre Arditi).
Score:Cast: Pierre Arditi, Sabine Azéma, Isabelle Carré, André Dussollier, Laura Morante, Lambert Wilson, Claude Rich Director: Alain Resnais Screenwriter: Jean-Michel Ribes Distributor: IFC Films Running Time: 125 min Rating: NR Year: 2006 Buy: Video