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Thread: Andre Techine: Hotel des Ameriques (1981)

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    Andre Techine: Hotel des Ameriques (1981)

    With a sad round of drifters, Téchiné finds himself

    This may be Téchiné's first distinctively personal work. Hôtel des Amériques is a rueful, disconcerting film whose central theme is the doomed relationship of two people, both distracted and hopeless, who aren't right for each other and don't know where they're going. Not altogether surprisingly, they meet as the result of a car crash in which one almost runs over the other. That's a good sign of where things are headed.

    All this happens in Biarritz, city of tourists and gamblers, a place one character says is not quite France but not quite anywhere else. It's another character in the film, alienating yet still romantic and, of course, a place where one might win big. At least it's a good place for a hotel. But the irony of the hotel is that when its owner returns from making a lot of money in Mexico he modernizes it and it becomes soulless and the cozy, voluptuous French "petits déjeuners" with strong coffee, crisp bread and big pats of butter are replaced by packaged "American breakfasts" deemed trendy and appealing to foreign guests.

    Gilles (Patrick Delawaere, excellent and troubling here) is an engaging but disastrous loser, poetic but seedy, who's mistakenly devoted to a pseudo-artistic petty criminal named Bernard (Etienne Chicot) whom he met when both were sojourning in New York. Bernard is really a very unpleasant man, a liar and would-be serial seducer who pretends his songwriting is important; he can't even make money as a street musician. Both men live in the hotel of Gilles' mother, who runs the place along with his younger sister, a heavy reader who never goes out but is madly in love with a man who once stayed one night at the hotel.

    The woman who almost kills Gilles with her car at the outset of the film is Hélène (Catherine Deneuve), an anesthesiologist adrift after the death of an older man, an architect whom she loved and who left her a large decrepit villa he had planned to restore, in which they were already living. She has moved now to a studio apartment with an ocean view when she hits Gilles and he latches onto her and won't let go. She's so lonely she accepts him, but she can't really love him and it would be impractical to do so. The circle is completed by Rudel (François Perrot), a doctor Hélène knew in medical school who once was her lover; he's a compulsive gambler whom Hélène appeals to for some sort of stability. He turns out to be the one Gilles' sister fell in love with.

    This is one of Téchiné's odd assortments of interconnected people; you can see the same thing going on in his 2007 The Witnesses. Les Voleurs (1996) is another excellent example as well as one of his masterpieces. In Wild Reeds/Les roseaux sauvages, another of Téchiné's best films, the composition is simple: just a girl and two boys, one of whom is gay and the other bisexual.

    Also emerging in this film is the gay element that's ever-present in the director's best work, usually with gay people and straight people who are friends and someone bisexual who links them all physically, like the bi- Vice Squad chief played by Sami Bouajila in Les Témoins, who's madly in love (and in lust) with Manu (Johan Libéreau), the boy who dies a tragic early AIDS victim, but who also loves his beautiful wife, Emmanuelle Béart, the frustrated children's book author who is to write their saga as a novel with Manu's true confessions at its center.

    Obviously linking seemingly disconnected people through variable sexualities is essential to Téchiné's way of composing a film. In Hôtel des Amériques the dilemma isn't as clear as in Wild Reeds. Bernard may be bisexual and Gilles may be in love with him as well as Hélène. Certainly he's torn between them, and Bertrand's heterosexual boasting may be a pose. The gay post office worker Luc (Jean-Louis Vitrac) is attracted to Bernard. Bernard rejects Luc but falls back upon him in desperation when his life is a shambles. Jacques Nolot, the filmmaker, plays a tough gay leatherman who tries to beat up Bernard in a cruising area. This was Nolot's first of many film roles; he runs the whorehouse hotel occupied by Manu and his sister in Les Ténoins. Meanwile he has become highly respected latterly for his own few wry, boldly unguarded, autobiographical films. He wrote the scenario for Téchiné's I Don't Kiss/J'embrasse pas (1991), which contains autobiographical elements for both him and the director.

    Hôtel des Amériques was a turning point for Téchiné. He has said that from then on he no longer made genre films, and this was the beginning of a fruitful collaboration with Deneuve, six films together so far (2009). With a gay sensibility, Téchiné has worked with the most beautiful actresses in French cinema, including Emmanuelle Béart and Juliette Binoche. This 1981 Deneuve is icy cold, as she tended to be when young, but later she uses her iciness to be engagingly annoying for Arnaud Desplechin (in Kings and Queen and A Christmas Tale), showing these two auteurs don't find her perfection at all off-putting, and rightly so: ice-queen Deneuve has blossomed into a woman who has depths and can be humorous and almost cuddly.

    The thing is that whether you like Hôtel des Amériques or not, and I find it unsatisfying, you can see in it how Téchiné came to find himself through working not from genres or from movies but from life and in particular from the quirks of his characters and their interactions. This explains his reliance on "l'imprévu," the element of the unforeseen, the improvised, with accidents and pickups in bars or cruising areas determining story arcs and relationships.

    _______________
    Hôtel des Amériques is available from Netflix on a duo DVD, with I J'embrasse pas.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-09-2009 at 11:28 AM.

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