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Film Review: L’important c’est d’aimer

L’important c’est d’aimer is the story of an average person living outside the mainstream and the melodrama of humans struggling with aspirations of creative grandeur only to be dashed against the rocks. In the end not everyone gets greatness and sometimes even the best just don’t have the right luck.

The film tells the tale of Nadine (Romy Schneider) and Servais Mont (Fabio Testi), struggling to find creative fortune in a production of Richard III. Muse and Photographer dancing around what may or may not be romantic feelings for each other or just an attraction grown out of opposition to the desperate, failing relationships around them.

Complicating the relationship is Nadine’s husband Jacques (amazingly portrayed by singer Jacques Dutroc), a man whose odd behavior and obsession with celebrity head shots and film ephemera (my favorite being an East of Eden poster), has the quirky desperation of someone holding onto nothing. He’s clearly obsessed with his wife’s potential to become a big star. They are both faced with the realities of a failed marriage, her “aging” out of starlet status, and financial ruin. They share a peculiar connection defined by a once genuine affection and passion, presently faded into a mutual desperation and desire for love.

The film is supported by Laurent Messala, (played by Guy Mairesse) the eccentric theater director and Karl-Heinz Zimmer. Messala performs a pair of dynamic monologues, the first of which draws an intense rehearsal performance from Nadine, yet its the emotional disbanding of the misfit production of Richard III after a scathing opening review that really resonates (and reminds of the misadventures of out of work actors Withnail & I, another film that reeks of longing and clutching for more from the jaws of despair).

Zimmer’s moment comes during his exceptional exit from the film. After a failed production of Richard III, has him meet Servais where he proclaims he’s off to “play Vladimir in Godot“, the irony being he could have been playing Vladimir in some form the whole time and in going off to “play Vladimir” he’s truly found his place to wait out time.

Circling them all is the Servais Mont. His ghostly manner makes him feel an apparition, someone not truly there. Nadine calls him “The Ghost” saying “there’s always one at the back” and for most of the film he has more in common with Damiel and the other angels from Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire than he does with his directly relatable counterpart Thomas, from Antonioni’s Blow Up. The cinematography only lends to this imagery — using high, slightly wide angles to create a peering over the crowd effect. The end result is a breathy, poetic intimacy that evokes the tension of asking your 8th grade crush to couples. It’s truly a beautifully shot film.

Throughout the film Mont slums with gangsters, photographing sex parties with the intent to use as blackmail, to pay a debt he took to help Nadine break out as a star. Sickened by some of the sex acts, he venomously proclaims his disgust for a “granny dyke” (hugely homophobic by today’s standards). Though his revulsion lies more with the exploitive nature of watching the old gangster facilitate the older woman’s sexual desires with a drugged and likely underage girl and has little in the way of language to express it otherwise. This is the moment of his moral rise and personal fall. He’s been flitting through the underbelly of life and now he quits; debts be damned.

Through all of this Nadine and Mont flirt and dance around each other in such a way that I almost wonder if “the ghost” is a stand in for various potential beaus (imagined or real) or missed career opportunities. We never find out if their love manifests and endures but we do end with our ghost having a bloody fall to earth. And like two of its contemporaries Dog Day Afternoon and The Panic in Needle Park the film doesn’t give a pat happy ending. It’s a snapshot of a moment of fleeting love, bleeding and honest.

What interested me most about the film was how similar it was to its American contemporaries yet very subtly more mature. Mont’s army surplus jacket seemingly nods to Travis Bickel if only it weren’t for the fact that they came out the same year. The fluidity of the film differs from a lot of the era’s jumpiness and seems to gain a lot from New Wave stylistically without being a copycat.

Director, Andrzej Żuławski, proves here that even early on he was a mature story teller with a fondness for those left of center struggling with simply living. And, as the title suggests, the most important thing is simply love.

Review by Thomas Sarvello, follow him here

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