The title of My Wife Is an
Actress (Ma femme est une actrice) sums up the narrator's dilemma:
Yvan loves his wife Charlotte, but he's struggling with her career, with its
side effects like autograph hounds and (worst of all) sexy male co-stars. Unlike
many romantic comedies, My Wife Is an Actress takes up the story not
with a couple's courtship, but with their relationship already established:
over the course of the film, Yvan and Charlotte struggle to keep their
previously happy marriage going. It's not that there's anything in particular
wrong with their relationship; it's just that Yvan perceives an imbalance
between his career as a sports writer and Charlotte's as a famous actress.
Exactly what is the relationship between Charlotte and the leading men in her
films? How much of a love scene is really "acting"? Yvan's paranoid
fantasies begin to grow all out of proportion, launching him on a trajectory
that may very well bring their relationship to a crisis point.
The comedy in My Wife Is an
Actress is drawn largely from situation and character rather than
deliberately comic lines. The frustrated Yvan gets into various misadventures
while grappling with the idea of his wife's acting career, from a conversation
with an annoying stranger who is a little overly interested in Charlotte's
on-screen affairs, to a disastrous impromptu visit to the set of Charlotte's
The story itself is highly
self-referential: The characters of Yvan and Charlotte are played by Yvan Attal
and Charlotte Gainsbourg, a couple in real life, and other French actors show
up in a restaurant scene. The story revolves around acting, and specifically
the filming of a new movie starring Charlotte; Attal seems to be deliberately
trying to blur the boundaries between realism and fantasy, between the genuine
life of actors like himself and Gainsbourg, and the story life of their
namesakes in My Wife Is an Actress.
My Wife Is an Actress
draws some striking parallels with Godard's 1963 New Wave film Contempt (Le mépris), which was
especially striking given that I'd just reviewed Contempt a few days before.
The parallels begin with its extensive self-referentiality and multi-lingual
nature, including the film-within-a-film, and also appear in a host of minor
touches like a scene shot in the couple's apartment that stylistically mirrors
a similar shot in Contempt, with long shots, the inclusion of walls and
doorways to create unconventional framing for the action, and the fact that
this scene is of the couple's underlying tensions expressed through the
ordinary acts of deciding to go out for dinner.
One distinct oddity in the film
is the casting of Terence Stamp as the "sexy co-star" of Charlotte in
the film-within-a-film. He's represented in the film as being a hot leading
man, the kind that teenaged girls swoon over and that Yvan might reasonably be
jealous of... but with the age difference and his overall demeanor, Stamp comes
across much more as an amiable grandfather figure than as a romantic interest.
In the end, it's a lightly
entertaining piece, made more interesting than a generic romantic comedy by its
use of the self-referential elements and the inclusion of some genuinely
amusing scenes, such as Yvan's visit to the set, or his own initiation into the
mysteries of acting.
Presented in its original
aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and anamorphically enhanced, Sony Pictures Classics'
transfer of My Wife Is an Actress is satisfactory. A moderately large
amount of noise and grain is apparent in the image, which reduces the clarity
of the detail; there's also some slight shimmering noticeable in some of the
straight lines in the image at times. Only a few touches of edge enhancement
appear, and on the whole colors and contrast are handled well. Skin tones and
other colors appear natural, and the many nighttime scenes show good black
levels and an adequate level of detail.
I am pleased to report that the
subtitles in My Wife Is an Actress are optional, so viewers can choose
to watch the film either with or without English subtitles. The subtitle
selection must be made from the film's main menu, however: trying to turn the
subtitles on or off on the fly doesn't work.
The soundtrack for My Wife
Is an Actress is a Dolby 5.1 French track. The surround channels do get
used, but very mildly, so the overall effect is of a fairly front-centered
soundtrack. The dialogue is nicely clear at all times, with music and other
effects balanced correctly and never intruding on the actors' voices.
A full-length audio commentary
track by Yvan Attal is provided; as he's both director, writer, and starring
actor, he has an insight into many different aspects of the film. Attal
provides an interesting commentary with a focus on technical elements such as
lighting or the composition of shots; his sense of humor comes through as well.
The commentary track is in French, with non-optional English subtitles.
A trailer and four deleted
scenes are included, along with a sixteen-minute "making of"
featurette that is mainly promotional in nature; it intersperses frequent clips
from the film with short interviews with the cast.
My Wife Is an Actress is
an amiable and enjoyable outing with first-time writer/director Yvan Attal. In
terms of story, it's fairly unfocused, but the film is really about the
relationship between Yvan and Charlotte and how it develops; the result is an
enjoyable balance of humor with dramatic elements. The DVD has a good if not
exceptional transfer, and a solid slate of extras to round out the experience; My
Wife Is an Actress is recommended.