Monday, December 19, 2005

Film Review - "Nelly et Monsieur Arnaud"

Recommended Film - Nelly et Monsieur Arnaud
Director - Claude Sautet

Superficially a tale of unrequited love, Nelly & Monsieur Arnaud evolves into an altogether more satisfying treatise on emotional interdependencies. Nelly (Emmanuelle Béart) holds down a multitude of positions, ranging from serving in a bakery to temping at a reprographics firm, in order to keep her marriage with Jerôme (Charles Berling) together. For over a year he's been unemployed and disillusioned, most days barely managing to crawl from the bedroom to the lounge. Meeting her mother for lunch one afternoon, Nelly is introduced to Monsieur Arnaud (Michel Serrault). A charming, retired businessman Arnaud is an old friend of her mother and a fine confidant. Nelly finds herself unloading her worries and financial difficulties onto Monsieur Arnaud, at which point he makes the quite unexpected offer of negating her debts. Taken aback and reasonably suspicious, Nelly refuses and thanks him for his kindness. However, when Nelly later tells Jerôme that she accepted his proposal, her husband's muted reaction is enough to make her leave him.

The next day Nelly actually picks up on Monsieur Arnaud's gift (which is supposed to have no strings attached) and learns that he's looking for a conscientious secretary. Although he's a successful businessman Monsieur Arnaud is writing memoirs on his former life as a judge in the French colonies, but he's terrible with a word processor. Nelly soon finds her feet with a sub-let studio and takes on the task of pummelling Monsieur Arnaud's scrappy notes into presentable form. He's always extremely kind and attentive to Nelly's well-being, keen to offer money, advice and a shoulder to lean on. However, she's quite content with her new found freedom, happy to work with Monsieur Arnaud and chat pleasantly but concerned to keep her distance. In the course of typing up the manuscript Nelly visits the publishers, where she meets Vincent (Jean-Hughes Anglade). His infatuation is obvious when he immediately invites her to dinner.

Eventually Nelly gives in and allows herself to be wined and dined by the charming Vincent, although there's no chance of them spending the night together (she's still married after all). Interestingly Monsieur Arnaud receives word of their meetings and becomes jealous, based on nothing more substantial than his misplaced lust and fear of mortality. When he accuses her of sleeping with Vincent (which is none of his business) Nelly replies in the affirmative, then goes away and does so. She can be quite contrary when the mood takes her, such as when people make unwarranted assumptions. At about the same time her mother phones to relay the news that Jerôme is in hospital, after a possible drug overdose. When Nelly visits she finds that her departure was just what Jerôme needed, since he's now got a new job and girlfriend. Feeling somewhat redundant, Nelly departs to make sense of her own future.

Although Nelly & Monsieur Arnaud seems, at first glance, to be a story of two people it is, in fact, only that of Nelly. Monsieur Arnaud is an important figure because he provides the catalyst for change; without his intervention Nelly would probably still be looking after Jerôme. However, he is merely another person affected by Nelly in her unique manner (where each feels that there is something that she can give them, that they require). Jerôme needs her for existence, Monsieur Arnaud needs her to energise his life, Vincent needs her total commitment and so on. Somehow Nelly is above this, realising the situation and dealing with it in a way which suits her (never condescendingly though). Béart gives a fine performance, full of half-looks and subtle nuances; she really is an individual worth knowing (not just for her elegant looks). Serrault also finely modulates his character, drawing on a lifetime of experience, whilst the remainder of the cast acquit themselves adequately. A strangely hopeful experience, Nelly & Monsieur Arnaud remains an exquisite character study.


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