My Wife Is an Actress (Ma femme est une actrice)
Columbia/Tri-Star // R // $29.95 // December 10, 2002
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted December 31, 2002
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The movie

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 new movie.

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.

Final thoughts

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.

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