FALSE CONFESSIONS (LES FAUSSES CONFIDENCES) (Luc Bondy, 2016)
Angelika Film Center, 18 West Houston St. at Mercer St., 212-995-2570
Lincoln Plaza Cinema, 1886 Broadway between 62nd & 63rd Sts., 212-757-2280
Opens Friday, July 14
Swiss-born French opera and theater director Luc Bondy also made several films during his five-decade career, the last of which, False Confessions, opens on Bastille Day at the Angelika and Lincoln Plaza. Based on Pierre Carlet de Chamberlain de Marivaux’s 1737 play, Les Fausses Confidences, the film was made at the same time Bondy was directing a stage version of the romantic comedy of manners at the Théâtre de l’Odéon; during the day, he would shoot scenes for the film, and the same cast would then perform at the theater for a live audience at night. The mesmerizing Isabelle Huppert stars as Araminte, a wealthy, and very sexy, widow who is convinced by her valet, Dubois (Yves Jacques), to hire the innately handsome Dorante (Louis Garrel) as her private secretary. Dubois’s plan is to have his former boss, Dorante, woo Araminte and marry her for her money. But Araminte is already being courted by the dastardly Count (Jean-Pierre Malo), who is also lording over her with a questionable legal dispute that he promises will go away once they are wed. Meanwhile, Dorante’s uncle, Monsieur Rémy (Bernard Verley), is trying to make a reputable match between his nephew and Marton (Manon Combes), Araminte’s servant and companion. Chaos soon reigns as Dorante does indeed fall in love with Araminte, who understands that social graces prevent their union, and Marton falls head-over-heels for Dorante.
Bondy and cowriter Geoffrey Layton have moved the setting to twenty-first-century Paris, but the story remains in the eighteenth, creating an often troubling dichotomy. Both Araminte and Marton desire Dorante, but Garrel plays him with a stiff indifference, so it is hard to see his charm. Bulle Ogier goes way over the top as Araminte’s annoyingly gauche mother, Madame Argante, who orders her daughter to fire Dorante and marry the Count. Various miscommunications, both accidental and intended, only serve to continue the rather droll, uninspired plot, which, despite all the talk of love and romance, is curiously dull. But at the center of it all is Huppert, one of the world’s greatest actresses, who is radiant throughout it all, looking fabulous in Moidele Bickel’s costumes, whether doing Tai Chi, sitting on a park bench, or draped in an elegant white silk robe. Aside from Huppert, the production, which was completed by Bondy’s wife, Marie-Louise Bischofberger, after his death in November 2015 at the age of sixty-seven, is rather lifeless; as the finale reveals, there is a big difference between stage and screen, and what works for one does not necessarily work for the other. Bondy leaves behind quite a legacy, but this TV-movie version of the Marivaux play is a lesser part of it.