(MA15+) 136 minutes
A narcissistic young writer exploits an aging and sexually demanding movie star. She lives in a big house with a swimming pool. A young beauty has stolen jewels and hearts on the French Riviera. French writer/director Nicolas Beddos knows we know he borrows heavily from two classics: sunset strip and catch a thief. He doesn’t care. He improvises like a jazz musician, playing a theme and twisting it. He gave us a shot of Fanny Adante as the elderly actress, lying face down in her swimming pool, filmed from below.
This mirrors the famous opening of Billy Wilder’s film about the corrupt heart of Hollywood, except that William Holden plays the writer as a floater and an afterthought narrator. Who’s going to die this time, we wonder?
beddoes, who created good timewrite first Masquerade as fiction. This explains the dense plot. It’s a complex story, fraught with betrayal. More usefully, it’s an astute description of the set of characters in the making. Some want love, some want love and money, some just want revenge.
It’s always interesting how everyone is corrupted by their own desires. We can be smug that even if we’re not that beautiful, we’re not that corrupt. Even by French standards, the woman at the center of the story is simply jaw-dropping.
Margot (Marine Vacth) is a goddess and a demon. She can have any man – and often does – but only if he’s rich. She is very honest about her greed and ambition. In Riviera, everyone is buying and selling their body; she just wants a higher price. Falling in love with penniless writer Adrian (Pierre Nini) is foolish, except that he opens the way to Martha Duvall (Ardant). At a party at the Duvall mansion, Margot holds up a fine jewel before seducing Adrien in a moving car. Eat your heart out, Hitchcock.
The contrast between Ardant and Vacth – the aging beauty and her prime – is painful because Ardant’s character is so alone in her contempt. She was once a character; in her little kingdom, she still is. Overriding her pet writers is proof. Ardant takes the role too well to bear, especially when she watches her old movies at night, reveling in the flawless beauty she once was, a la Norma Desmond. Yes, the picture got smaller.
Vacth is a discovery. Her combination of brass with vulnerability, sex and comedic timing shows that there are more resources than anyone suspected.