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Thread: DECEPTION/TROMPERIE (Arnaud Desplechin 20212)

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    Jul 2002
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    DECEPTION/TROMPERIE (Arnaud Desplechin 20212)



    Desplechin transforms a bad Roth novel into a smart and sparklling French film

    Here is the setup of Tromperie, the sparkling and intelligent new (but long gestating) Arnaud Desplechin film adaptation of the 1990 Philip Roth novel Deception:

    London - 1987. Over a year, from autumn to summer, well-known American author Philip (Denis Podalydès), whose wife remains in New York, meets repeatedly with his thirty-something English mistress (Léa Seydoux), who's also married and often talks to him about her husband, in Philip's roomy, gracious London writing workplace, which is the two lovers' refuge. There they talk, make love and talk some more about such topics as the women in his life, sex, antisemitism, literature, and fidelity to oneself. There are also brief meetings of Philip in other places (including back in New York) with other people, and after breaks in cafes or restaurants with the mistress again. There is also a mock trial of Philip for his questionable treatment of women.

    A New York critic friend of mine condemned this film because the actor "playing Roth" (that is to say, Roth's obvious fictional alter ego) needed to be "handsome, authoritative, and commanding" like the real Roth, whom my friend knew, while Desplechin's actor, Denis Podalydès, is balding and (he thought) "looks like Wallace Shawn," yet plays many sex scenes with Lea Seydoux, which seemed to him repugnant. This could be a problem if you require Denis Podalydès to resemble the physical Philip Roth. Much less so for the French, I would say. They have a tradition that men in movies need not be handsome to be sexy and important. Being a very famous writer can be sexy enough. Podalydès sparkles in the role. He is a popular and prolific actor on stage and screen; an author, scenarist, and director, a member of the national theater, the Comédie Française; has been made Commandeur de l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres; and has received numerous Césars and other awards. All this gives Podalydès clout for the French, who are probably unaware of Wallace Shawn. I see my American friend's problem with Podalydès; but he shines here, and I understand better from the verve and humor of this performance why the French like him.

    This is one of the best films adapted from Philip Roth - not very strong competition, admittedly, since his novels have not adapted well. One might consider that, Philip Roth's looks aside, this French film is taken wholesale from from a relatively minor and particularly talky, pretentious, and self-absorbed Philip Roth novel. It translates into French rather well. Sometimes it even feels as if the book was meant to be French. It has a passage in the novel, in English, where Phillip tells his English lover, "I'm listening. I listen. I'm an écouteur - an audiophiliac. I'm a talk fetishist." What could be more French than all this intellectual bedroom talk?

    This film has a hallucinatory non-literal quality due to the key factor that these American and English characters who talk and fuck in London speak always and only in French. Incidentally we don't see much of London or of Seydoux and Podalydès in bed; they're more often in passionate conversation. Also various others, Czech, etc., with their names unchanged, all speak French. They are French, Brits and Americans seen through a French prism, brightly. There is only the most delicate and invisible effort to make Léa Seydoux dress or look like an Englishwoman. She seems more mature and sophisticated here and appears to be having a very good time, at moments too good a time: perhaps she should not laugh quite so much. Likewise for Podalydès. Roth's usual machismo and solemnity have been washed out of the tone of the film.

    This is a busy, engaging, smart film. Even its version of Roth's pro-Israel stance comes off as smarter. But for an Anglophone viewer, it all may seem curiously off-key. Therefore, this is one of those French films that just won't work for American audiences, unless it will, seen through the second prism of home online screening on a subscription platform, MUBI. It is significant that the Metacritic rating, summarizing Anglophone reviews, is a miserable 43%, while the AlloCiné press score, collecting French ones, is a much less bad 3.6/5 - 72%.

    Desplechin's modestly mounted film, theatrical like its talky book source, celebrates actors, and besides Seydoux, who is honored by playing opposite Podalydès, there is a hammy but magnificent turn by Emannuelle Devos as an old lover of Philip in New York dying of cancer, and performances by Anouk Grinberg as Philip's wife; Madalina Constantin as a Czech woman whose tormented life fascinates him; Miglen Mirtchev as Ivan, her boisterous husband who confronts Philip with his relationship with her; Rebecca Marder as a student-mistress who has gone rather attractively mad; Frédérique Giffard as the cool chief prosecutor in the mock trial; and others, including André Oumansky as Philip's father who - surprise! - looks quite a lot like the older Philip Roth. All of them shine - a bit too much sometimes: they can be distracting, and their segments make the film feel overstuffed in the middle, though this goes away and we're left with magnificent final dialogues between Podalydès and Seydoux revisiting their relationship. It is chiefly the meeting with the wife that explains the title, since she had found and read Philip's London notebook revealing his amante anglaise and he insists she is pure invention. But Philip's whole sex life is a collection of deceptions.

    In L"Humanité in an interview with the director, Sophie Joubert sums things up this way: "Faithful to the text, even if he rearranges its structure, Arnaud Desplechin stages desire, speech and writing in a carnal and elegant film of great intelligence." That's how French viewers who like the film see it; but we have to warn Americans who are not Francophile or Francophone that it just may not work for you at all.

    Deception/Tromperie, 105 mins., debuted in Premieres at Cannes Jul. 2021, French theatrical release Dec. 29, 2021. Shown in seven or eight other festivals, including New York's Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, where it was first seen in the US Mar. 5, 2022. As mentioned the Metacritic rating is a horrible 43%, while the AlloCiné French press rating is a respectable 3.6 (72%) - though the AlloCiné Spectators rating is considerably lower, 2.6/52% . Released exclusively on the MUBI global streaming service on May 20, 2022.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-20-2022 at 10:22 PM.


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