By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Hiding from the Nazis.
Bernard (Gerard Depardieu) is a young actor, who’s also a member of the French Resistance, living in occupied Paris during World War II. He gets a part as the leading man in a play at a playhouse run by Marion (Catherine Denueve) who has taken over the business since her husband Lucas (Heinz Bennent), who was Jewish, and supposedly fled the country when the Nazis took over, but in reality is hiding-out inside the cellar. Bernard and Marion don’t get along at first, but slowly form a bond when they find a mutual enemy in the form of theater critic Daxiat (Jean-Louis Richard) who is an anti-Semite that writes a nasty review about their play, accusing it of being pro-Jewish, in an effort to close the place down, so that he can take it over.
The film, which was writer/director Francois Truffaut’s most successful movie financially and one of the highest grossing French Films ever, remains sufficiently compelling despite very little that actually happens. One of the elements though that I found intriguing was the behind-the-scenes segments revealing all the work that gets put into a play before its opening night premiere . I especially liked Nadine (Sabine Haudepin) as a young actress who tirelessly goes from one acting gig to another, sometimes multiple ones on the same day, in order to help her career and get established.
Revealing right away, or pretty much by the end of the first act, that the husband has never left the country like everyone presumes, was a mistake that lessened the intrigue. For one thing the place he is hiding in, which is the cellar of the theater, is not too creative and even has a back door leading out to the alley way, which made me feel that anyone could’ve caught on to his whereabouts a lot sooner especially as Marion sometimes leaves her visits with him by going out the back entrance. Any passer-by/snitch could see her doing this and wonder what the door lead to, or called the Nazi authorities to have them investigate. It’s also not clear how, in seemingly a few minutes time, Marion is able to hide Lucas and his bed/personal belongings, from the Gestapo when they eventually insist on checking-out the basement.
Marion’s interactions with her husband is not particularly compelling and yet these scenes take up the majority of the runtime during the second act while Depardieu, who is excellent, barely gets seen at all. Then during the third act Marion and Bernard suddenly get really into each other, but the interactions between the two needed to be shown more for this to be organic to the viewer and in fact should’ve been more the focus of the film than Lucas. Had I been the director I would’ve kept Lucas’ whereabouts a secret until near the end when Bernard finally becomes aware of it and used the mystery of whether Marion knew more about it than she lets on as part of the intrigue.
The ending is a bit of a disappointment. The tone of the film works as a drama, but then suddenly shifts with about 10 minutes to go into a quirky comedy, which doesn’t work. The story threads get wrapped up in too tidy of way leaving the dynamics of Marion’s relationship with Bernard and Lucas’ response to it wide-open. After 2 hours and 10 minutes the character arcs should’ve been better defined and since they aren’t it makes the viewer feel like the movie doesn’t really go anywhere, or lead to anything insightful, which is a shame as it’s a nice looking, period authentic production otherwise.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: September 17, 1980
Runtime: 2 Hours 11 Minutes
Director: Francois Truffaut
Available: DVD, Amazon Video