[Originally published in Movietone News 23, May-June 1973]
There’s no good reason why this film shouldn’t be entitled César and Rosalie and David since that’s a much more complete and accurate indication of what’s going on herein. Rosalie (Romy Schneider) is the mistress of César (Yves Montand), a vulgar but dynamic and likable junk tycoon given to explosive demonstrations of affection one moment, rage the next. She has a child, a little daughter, by a painter named named Antoine whom she married after the love of her life, another artist named David (Sami Frey), bugged out to the States without a word of explanation. After five years David returns as unexpectedly as he departed; Rosalie, without ceasing to love César, finds she’s still interested. César, doing his utmost to appear subtle and to take things in stride, belatedly catches on and threatens to make a shambles of all their lives. The film proceeds along familiar enough lines with Rosalie gravitating first to one man, then to the other. It is the violently changeable César who finally concedes that he cannot cope with “imagination,” as personified by David, and that Rosalie cannot be content without both of them; he invites his rival to share their seaside idyll. At that point Rosalie finds herself confronted with a particularly incongruous Jules-and-Jim relationship in the making and clears out entirely—only to return, a year later, just as the two men have settled into a mutually supportive (though not necessarily homosexual) lifestyle. And at that questionable juncture, the film terminates.
Claude Sautet’s feeling for and ability to convey the dynamics of unlikely love-friendships were apparent in the 1959 The Big Risk, a Belmondo-Ventura gangster film that occasionally turns up on local telly. The generic framework of the earlier film lent a structure to Sautet’s celebration of elusive intimacies that César and Rosalie very much needs. Here his script (written with Jean-Loup Dabadie) fails to develop sufficient depth or density of character and motivation, and his direction, though attractive enough, lacks compensatory fiber, doesn’t partake of the sort of suggestive formalism that might enable the film to grow as the relationships of its people supposedly do. If we are willing to take the fact of growth and development on trust, it is largely due to the sympathetic presences of the principal players. However, even among these only Yves Montand gives anything like a full and considered performance; Schneider and Frey, like everyone in the smaller roles, register one another’s participation and the general activity round them with a tolerance that is undoubtedly genuine enough and intended to imply a generous appreciation of les choses de la vie. But ultimately this easygoing niceness only convinces us of the director’s limited comprehension of his subject and paucity of ideas for exploring it, and condemns the film to the ranks of mildly pleasant trifles.
CÉSAR AND ROSALIE
Direction: Claude Sautet. Screenplay: Jean-Loup Dabadie and Claude Sautet. Cinematography: Jean Boffety.
The Players: Yves Montand, Romy Schneider, Sami Frey.
Copyright © 1973 by Richard T. Jameson