Ma Femme est Une Actrice
(My Wife is an Actress)
Starring: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Yvan Attal, Terence Stamp, Noemie Lvovsky, Ludivine Sagnier
Director:

Yvan Attal

Writing credits: Yvan Attal
Distributor: Sony Classic Pictures * 93 minutes
Rated: Not Rated
  (France 2002)

Note: This film was included in the 31st New Directors/New Films 2002 series presented by The Film Society of Lincoln Center and The Department of Film and Media of The Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The film opens in New York and Los Angeles on July 12, 2002.

Israeli/French actor/director Yvan Attal, whose second directorial effort MY WIFE IS AN ACTRESS premiered at the 2002 New Director/New Films festival, would have been perfectly at home alongside the young Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman during that strange era of short, swarthy,rumpled leading men. It's obvious, from this sparkling, often hilarious romantic jealousy comedy, that Attal spent much of his 1970's childhood in a movie theatre, because while this is definitely a French film, American influences as diverse as ANNIE HALL, THE GRADUATE, and TAXI DRIVER are clearly on display. In fact, at times Attal looks so much like a young Robert DeNiro that it seems the film should instead be called "My Husband Is Travis Bickle."

"Paris can boast a population of 2,125,246. Of these 1,153,000 are women and 10,000 are actresses," the film begins after a marvelous opening credits sequence featuring photographs of silent film divas against a musical background of a bouncy Ella Fitzgerald tune. Attal has translated his worst marital nightmares into a charming, nearly perfect little film that ought to be a word-of-mouth hit when it opens in theatres in July. Yvan Attal, filmmaker, married to Charlotte Gainsbourg, actress, plays Yvan, sportswriter, married to Charlotte Vierny, actress. It's obviously a marriage of short duration that's still finding its level where the demands of Charlotte's career are concerned, particularly the issues of love scenes, and where acting leaves off and real life begins. This sort of examination of the the curse of being romantically involved with a public figure who has an adoring public was covered in NOTTING HILL, though Attal has a far more deft comedic touch. He picks at these issues like a ten-year-old picking at a scab on his knee, only with an adult's ability to step back and look at the absurdity of the situation.

Yvan seems to accept his wife's profession, until a stranger needles him with questions about how it feels to be married to an actress: "How about when they kiss...with tongues and all?" When Yvan insists, "She doesn't sleep around", the boor's fascination plants the first seeds of doubt in his head by saying, simply, "It's her job." This seed is watered and fertilized by the terrifying reality that Charlotte's next leading man is none other than an actor known only as "John", played (inevitably) by Terence Stamp, the sexiest sexuagenarian on the face of the earth. In a very funny sequence, Charlotte is asked by each of about a dozen journalists, "How does it feel to be working with him?" Charlotte simply smiles blandly and replies, "I'm very excited." And who wouldn't be? Stamp doesn't quite play himself, though he certainly has fun riffing on his own image as Aging Mystical Sex Symbol. Sporting the same thinning buzz-cut he wore in THE LIMEY and lounging around in a velour robe and his trademark creepy grin, he's Hugh Hefner with irony, a guy who has to work a little at having women fall at his feet, but who enjoys the chase far more than the capture. Stamp has done some interesting and varied work, but as in 1999's BOWFINGER, he shows that he's not just aging phenomenally well, he's also very, very funny.

I must confess that I wanted to see this film because I would pay to watch Terence Stamp polish his shoes, but Yvan Attal is quite the scene stealer in his own right. He obviously thinks of himself as a Woody Allen type -- the Jewish schlemiel with the fabulous babe on his arm, but he's far more attractive (other than the unfortunate echoes of DeNiro in TAXI DRIVER) and thankfully lacks Allen's annoying vocal tics. If anything, his slow burn shows him to be a gifted physical and facial comic in the tradition of the great silent film comedians. This film may be his nightmare come to life, but it would not surprise me if the tables were turned if this film catches on as I think it will. But for now, he is merely the co-star to Gainsbourg, a huge star in France, with a rather ordinary face, leavened by a comically goofy smile, who's strikingly reminiscent of her mother, Jane Birkin (who is, like Stamp, another sixties film icon, having starred opposite David Hemmings in Michelangelo Antonioni's BLOW-UP in 1966).

There is also a subplot involving Yvan's sister and brother-in-law's arguments over whether to circumcise their son, which seems to exist solely to underscore Yvan's position as Jewish Outsider in his wife's gentile world and set his swarthy emotionality even further apart from Stamp's icy whiteness and set up his exploration of how fears and anxieties can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. With Yvan behaving more and more like a madman as he accuses his wife of infidelity with this English smooth talker, who could blame her for succumbing (even if he seems a tad full of himself)?

MY WIFE IS AN ACTRESS may be heavily influenced by 1970's Hollywood, but this is still very much a French film, with anxiety-ridden sequences shot on trains as Yvan gnaws his metaphorical leash all the way from Paris to London and the obligatory scenes of Wronged Husband Brooding In The Rain. Still, Attal has a way of turning even these conventions on their ear, with the pounding beat of the Clash's London Calling as musical backdrop to the train sequences and the brooding sequence climaxed by a well-placed wheel of brie to the mystical Mr. Stamp's visage.

I'm not convinced that Yvan Attal has succeeded in making us understand his mad love for his wife. But I suspect that when this film is unleashed on an American public later this year, he'll succeed in making Americans fall in love with him.

Just so Julia Roberts isn't cast in the sequel. Maybe Twiggy....

- Jill Cozzi

Review text copyright © 2002 Jill Cozzi and Cozzi fan Tutti. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text in whole or in part in any form or in any medium without express written permission of Cozzi fan Tutti or the author is prohibited.

 

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