Private Fears in Public Spaces (Coeurs) – Alain Resnais – Fr 2006 – Sabine Azema Andre Dussollier

Private Fears in Public Spaces (Coeurs) – Alain Resnais – Fr 2006 – Sabine Azema Andre Dussollier

Adrin Neatrour writes: With its soft wry humour and humanistic take on contemporary social mores, Private Fears in Public Spaces(Coeurs) feels like an old man’s film. The question is whether Resnais has anything further to commit to film: whether he still has real energy to add to his own oeuvre and to say something to us about our situation. Otherwise why bother. Otherwise he is simply going through a gestural process of demonstrating the vacuous art of film making.

Private Fears in Public Spaces (Coeurs)
– Alain Resnais – Fr 2006 – Sabine Azema Andre Dussollier

Viewed Tyneside Cinema 18 Aug 07 Ticket
Price £6-20

With its soft wry humour and humanistic
take on contemporary social mores, Private Fears in Public
Spaces(Coeurs) feels like an old man’s film. The question is
whether Resnais has anything further to commit to film: whether he
still has real energy to add to his own oeuvre and to say something
to us about our situation. Otherwise why bother. Otherwise he is
simply going through a gestural process of demonstrating the vacuous
art of film making.

Coeurs is based on a theatrical text by
Alan Ayckbourn whose play gives the film its English title. Alan
Ayckbourn is the dramatist of middle England whose plays
characterised by an admix of both vicious and gentle humour explore
the social and consumerist pretensions of his characters. The plays
of his that I have seen certainly explore the dark areas of the
modern bourgeois psyche but do so in the manner which is contrived to
allow his audience to be complicit in their own dramas and invites a
sort of empathic collusion with the characters that is the basis of
their success. The plays are all written for the proscenium arch and
usually involve a small number of sets. The sets are central to
Ayckbourn’s work as the axes about which the action revolves and
they comprise interior settings familiar to a middle class audience.
The theatrical devices utilised are contrived coincident, the doors
in the scenery opening and closing to admit unexpected presences and
brutal quasi slack-stick accidents. It is a theatre of farce:
sometimes of a high order that artfully throws into high relief both
the devilish mechanisms by which we live and at the same time tacitly
understands and lends them a certain order and measure of ritual
theatric expiation.

This is the territory that Resnais has
chosen to explore. Ayckbourn is a very English writer/director who
writes for the audience of his Scarborough theatre. His characters
are defined by physical and attitudinal reflexes that make them
immediately familiar to the Yorkshire audience. The strength of
Ayckbourn’s dramatic writing is in releasing in his characters
forms of recognisable idiosyncrasies and ways of seeing things
wrapped up in contemporary settings. Resnais has to transpose this
filmically into the otherness of his chosen social milieu – Paris.
A city that has its own iconic attitudes traditions, and social and
consumerist mores.

Coeurs introduces a central filmic
idea with his opening shot – a track from high above a shimmering
white Paris through the falling snow to an upper balcony of a beaux
arts building, an apartment which Thierry the estate agent is showing
to his client Nicole. Resnais’ concern is with interiors, empty
shells which we fill with our desires. Coeurs opens up to a world
that revolves about the estate agent and the idea of the search:
search for right apartment, the search for the right partner, the
search for passion in an world increasingly hemmed in by blandness.

The film is an exploring of
interiority. Exteriors for the bourgeois city dweller who travels
from place to place in the car, are little more than simple visual
effects, a sort of child’s transparent bubble world where a quick
shake induces a gentle fall of snow. A pleasing visual simulacrum.
There are no exterior shots in Coeurs except the opening track so the
viewers are seeing the outside world from within the bubble lives of
the characters and their interior worlds. Between each shot, the hand
of Resnais shakes the bubble and in an inverse arrangement of the
child’ toy, it is on the outside the bubble where the snow gently
flutters down.

In common with other of his films the
settings in Coeurs are a key expressive component embedded at the
core of the film. Resnais moves through a number of different types
of bourgeois interior urban space. Firstly the empty and unfulfilled
spaces of the uninhabited apartments through which Nicole wanders as
an increasingly lost soul becoming ever more detached from the belief
system that sustains her. The empty apartments are finally shot from
overhead increasing the sense in which they are simply skeletal
structures waiting to be fleshed out by our yearnings. Secondly the
public spaces such as the space ship bar (presided over by the
extraterrestrial Lionel) whose interior fantasies and multiplicities
of plane and colour are designed to make us believe we exist in
another dimension on another planet: not on earth. And finally the
domestic home interiors which intensify either our sense of emptiness
or dissatisfaction. Like the video of Charlotte’s room, full
replete with dancing headless bodies. Interior architecture as
gaseous neon mirrors holding up for our inspection our reflection as
a parade of souls wandering through an increasingly detached
inconsequential world. Resnais makes particular use of colour as a
signifier of emptiness. Colour is primal. A biological indicator of
states of which we should have awareness. Danger – safety –
opaqueness – transparency – spirituality – carnality are all
states or conditions that can be suggested by colour. But in modern
interiors colours seems to exist for their own sake, for pure visual
effect, to create illusion to hold reality at bay. The
signification of colour has been transformed in contemporary settings
a signifier if hazy gaseous vacuity.

If Resnais chooses his settings for
their expressive potential it is the characters and scripts which
have enabled the settings to resonate and give form to the work. The
man and the woman in Hiroshima, the two men and the woman in
Marienbad the character in Providence all created a dynamic immanent
relationship with space and place allowing the film to move out of
the constraints of action and penetrate real adjacent but less
tangible realms such as time and memory. Nothing like this happens
in Coeurs. The more the film progresses the more it seems to fall
apart. Resnais seems trapped in Ayckbourn’s little interrelated
stories unable to free himself from the trite machinations of plot
and character.

The characters are deterritorialised
personas who have drifted from the wings of Ackbourn’s Scarborough
theatre and have been trapped in a script which fails to locate them
as Parisians. The consequence is that they do not appear so much as
lost souls but rather as unconvincing actors in unconvincing roles.
The characters – with the possible exception of Charlotte – about
whom there is a coy reticence – all seem to simply go through the
motions of pretending to play their roles. Something in the film in
the relation of the actors to their script and their settings simply
breaks down as the plotting becomes less and less convincing and
trapped in empty thespian gestures. At this point the film stops.
The developed relationship between Dan and Nicole is particularly
weak as it fails to resolve the tension between settings and
emotionally contrived demands of the relationship. The film produces
in the end a decontextualised nexus between setting script and
characters. In short it goes nowhere.

The strongest item in the film is the
1930’s poster advertising Scarborough which Thierry and Gail have
in their living room. I kept on looking at this displaced ‘art’
and wondered why it was there – at this point I hadn’t seen the
script was based n Ayckbourn’s play. I thought at first that it
was of a piece with a film whose theme was displacement. But by the
end, like the fluttering snow motif the poster had degenerated into a
mechanical response of a director who was an old man with nothing to
say, and with just a few jokes to leaven out his story.

Adrin Neatrour

adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

Author: Adrin Neatrour

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