Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Same Old Song

By Marjorie Baumgarten

DECEMBER 7, 1999: 

D: Alain Resnais; with Sabine Azéma, Agnès Jaoui, Jean-Pierre Bacri, Lambert Wilson, André Dussollier, Pierre Arditi. (Not Rated, 120 min.)

Sadly, the latest film by Alain Resnais, the great French filmmaker responsible for such seminal classics as Hiroshima, Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad, is nothing but a trifle. Same Old Song displays the filmmaker's familiar touch in terms of its playfully modernist structural experiment in narrative form. The story told in this 1998 movie is also much like those landmark Resnais films made nearly 30 years ago. Same Old Song is one long, extended lovers' knot, although it's fashioned this time as a musical comedy: Simon loves Camille, who loves Mark, who employs Simon and sells an apartment to Camille's sister Odile. Odile convinces her reluctant husband Claude to move into the apartment, while Claude frets over the return of Odile's old boyfriend Nicolas. Onto this slight setup, the film plasters an homage to the work of Dennis Potter, the prolific British TV and film writer whose best known works on these shores are The Singing Detective miniseries and the film Pennies From Heaven starring Steve Martin. Potter's work is distinguished by its explorations of consciousness and memory and its tendency for characters to suddenly start lip-syncing to popular old songs or break into dance. It's a tenuous and controversial method, one that for every moment of inspiration also spawns dozens of leaden imitators (like the short-lived American TV show Cop Rock). Same Old Song is not a work like the magical Umbrellas of Cherbourg, in which the entire movie is sung as a libretto. Here, the characters break into a few lines of song whenever the mood suits them. As they lip-sync, the singers' voices are often a mismatch for their own, the orchestrations completely external, and their actions seem more in keeping with the restrained logic of drama than the effusive gestures of musical expression. Part of the problem may be that the lack of familiarity to American ears of these popular French tunes may put a crimp in their cultural resonance. Sometimes a recognizable voice can be discerned ­ Aznavour, Piaf, Chevalier ­ thus we know the song must be part of the popular canon even though it means nothing to us. But problems also derive from the general lack of "gusto" with which these players break into their imaginary singing selves. They generally behave with the same nebbishy qualities they evidenced before ­ not at all like soloists in the spotlight in a musical comedy. If these musical moments are meant to be the projections of their inner fantasies, they are as flaccid and confined as their "real" lives. Same Old Song is a tired tune, conducted by a maestro who appears to be tone-deaf.

1.5 Stars

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