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Catherine Deneuve and Yves Montand star in Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s screwball romantic comedy, LE SAUVAGE

CinéSalon: LE SAUVAGE (THE SAVAGE) (LOVERS LIKE US) (Jean-Paul Rappeneau, 1975)
French Institute Alliance Française, Florence Gould Hall
55 East 59th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
Tuesday, January 12, $14, 7:30
Series continues Tuesdays through February 23

The spectacularly gorgeous Catherine Deneuve and the ruggedly handsome Yves Montand play it for outrageous laughs in Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s screwball romantic comedy, Le Sauvage, aka Lovers Like Us. Deneuve is mesmerizing as Nelly, an unpredictable woman who lives by her wits, as if she is a feral child raised by wolves. She acts out instantly on her id, without concerning herself with the consequences and effects on other people. She is engaged to marry Vittorio (Luigi Vannucchi), a hot-blooded Italian who is none too happy when she bolts in the middle of the night. In need of money, Nelly goes to the nightclub where she worked for a year without getting paid, demanding her salary, but when slick manager Alex Fox (Tony Roberts) refuses to give her a dime, she takes off with his prized possession, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s “La Goulue at the Moulin Rouge.” She tries to sell the painting to the stranger in the hotel room next to hers, Martin (Montand), but when Vittorio wrongly assumes he is his fiancée’s lover, Martin gets caught up in the middle of some crazy silliness as well as legitimate danger. Soon Martin and Nelly are living on a deserted island, she on the run from Vittorio, he hiding from his mysterious past.

Nominated for four César Awards — Best Actress (Deneuve), Best Director, Best Cinematography (Pierre Lhomme), and Best Editing (Marie-Josèphe Yoyotte) — Le Sauvage can be, er, savagely funny as well as absurdly silly. The plot takes plenty of awkward twists and turns as the action moves from Caracas to the Bahamas, from the Virgin Islands to New York City and France. Much of the madcap comedy is overblown, but it’s still an awful lot of fun, primarily because Deneuve and Montand are a joy to watch, and Rappeneau never misses a chance to showcase her beauty (oh, when she is washing her hair and the camera cuts in on her . . .) and his machismo (even slyly referencing The Wages of Fear when Montand gets behind the wheel of his truck). Roberts shows off his slapstick skills, but the subplot involving Vittorio’s endless chase of a woman who doesn’t want him grows both tiresome and misogynistic, and Bobo Lewis is way too over the top as the odd Miss Mark. The delightful music by Michel Legrand goes hand in hand with Lhomme’s bright and cheerful cinematography, with scene after scene painted in lush pastel colors that dazzle the eyes. So it is rather appropriate that Le Sauvage is kicking off FIAF’s two-month tribute to the eighty-five-year-old French cinematographer, the subject of the CinéSalon series “Lhomme Behind the Camera,” screening at 4:00 and 7:30 on January 12 in Florence Gould Hall. The series continues through February 23 with such other Lhomme-lensed films as Jean-Pierre Melville’s Army of Shadows, Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore, and Chris Marker and Lhomme’s Le Joli Mai.

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