In recent years the musical, a genre of movie that is all but dead, has been getting some well deserved attention. Whether it be the spectacle of the multiple Academy Award winning Chicago, or the unique style of the love-it-or-hate-it Moulin Rouge, people are starting to breath life back into the genre. One unlikely director of a musical is French New Wave director Alain Resnais. He took a stab at it with his 2003 film Not on the Lips. In a lot of ways this film is a throw-back to the 40's as it is very reminiscent of the MGM musicals and Hollywood farces of that time. Both fun and light, this is a surprising film from the director of Hiroshima, Mon Amour and Night and Fog.
It is the autum of 1925 and poor Gilberte (Sabine Azema) has a problem. She's married to a wealthy industrialist, Georges (Pierre Arditi), who simply adores her. It was important to him that he married a virgin, so Gilberte never told him about her first marriage to an American, Eric (Lambert Wilson). The snag comes when Georges announces that he's about to sign a big contract with an foreign associate who is coming to Paris. The partner is none other than Eric.
To add to the confusion Huguette (Audrey Tautou), a friend of the family, has fallen in love with the artist Charley (Jalil Lespert). But Charley isn't interested in Huguette, he's busy chasing after the married Gilberte. So Gilberte's old maid sister, Arlette (Isabelle Nanty) takes it upon herslef to play matchmaker. There's confusion and misunderstandings galore before the end of the film.
Adapted from a 1925 Parisian operetta, Not on the Lips is a delightful throwback to a simpler type of movie. The unpretentious direction help to make this a fun and enjoyable film, it's a lot like sitting down to watch a musical comedy from the 40's. The comical rapid dialog team up with frequent misunderstandings to create a classic farce. (It has to be a farce, who could honestly be more attracted to Sabine Azema than to the gorgeous Audrey Tautou?)
The songs in the film, penned by André Bardé and Maurice Yvain and sung by the cast themselves, are quick and catchy. Though they won't win any awards, the music fits in well and helps create the tone and atmosphere of the play. The subtitles for the lyrics are even presented as rhyming couplets, so that non-French speakers (like myself) can get a taste of the rhythm. The songs are very humorous too, with some of the better jokes appearing in them.
While the story is told in a series of indoor sets, the backgrounds are meticulously appointed and make for some surprisingly gorgeous visuals. One wouldn't think that a movie which is little more than an adaptation of a stage play would look so elegant and charming, but this movies use of bright colors in the sets and costumes to create some striking images, which are just an added bonus.
Don't be mistaken by the cover of the DVD case that prominently features
Audrey Tautou. While she does have a significant role in the film,
she is only a supporting character. She still manages to light up
the screen whenever she appears, and though she doesn't steal the film,
she does add to it considerably.
This film comes with a stereo and 5.1 French soundtrack. There are optional English subtitles of course, but there isn't an English dub. I viewed this with the 5.1 mix, and spot checked the alternate track and found them both to very good. The stereo track was less enveloping of course, but reproduced the music accurately. The 5.1 track made limited use of the rear channels, mainly using them for music, but the effect worked well. There were not any drop outs or other audio defects.
The anamorphic widescreen display (1.85:1) looks very good. The sets are colorfully dressed and these colors come through with striking brilliance. In a some scenes details were lost in the shadows and dark areas, but this was a minor complaint. Digital defects were very minor, mainly limited to just a few instances of aliasing. Overall a nice looking transfer.
There wasn't much in the way of extras on this disc, only filmographies of the director and actors and a selection of trailers, including one for Not on the Lips.
I really enjoyed this movie. Reminiscent of a musical from the 40's, this comical farce is a lot of fun. The humor works and the songs are catchy. Though it is not a masterpiece, and a little different from the other Renais films I've seen, it is still worth searching out. Fans of musicals and foreign films should be sure to check this out. Recommended.