Frederick Wiseman continues his unexpected but fascinating meditation on high-art culture with LA COMEDIE-FRANCAISE OU L'AMOUR JOUE (THE GAMES OF LOVE), the documentarian's 29th film, and his first made about a non-American subject.
Over the winter months of December 1994 and January 1995, Wiseman peeks into the preparations of La Comedie-Francaise, the 300-year-old theatrical company of France. First, the actors are seen rehearsing a scene on stage from Marivaux's "La Double Inconstance" ("The Inconstant Lovers"). Off-stage,
the costume cutters go to work while one of the company directors guides a young actress through a difficult scene from the same play. More rehearsals occur as eager theater patrons fight with a cashier at the box-office over the advance seating. At a business meeting about the company's finances,
an older actress argues for better care for retired members. Finally, the performance of the Marivaux play goes on for the public.
Later in the season, as the set designers put the finishing touches on the props in a nearby warehouse, several actors argue over modernizing another of the company's standard works, Moliere's "Don Juan." After agreeing to disagree over the matter, another business meeting takes place where the
top administrator lays out the paradox of the federally-financed company: La Comedie-Francaise can only receive government subsidies as long as it runs a deficit! Next, a reporter engages one of the directors in a discussion about gender politics in Marivaux and the relevance of the playwright's
work today. Backstage, several actors put on their make-up and get ready for another performance of "La Double Inconstance." After the show, the company enjoys a cast party, but the threat of a strike by the electricians and other stagehands the next day puts a damper on the festivities. Finally,
the actors and administrators join each other and the local mayor at the Artist Mutual Benefit Society, a retirement home for La Comedie-Francaise, where the company doyenne celebrates her 100th birthday.
Frederick Wiseman may be best known for films that have revealed the problems within national social institutions (HIGH SCHOOL, HOSPITAL, WELFARE, et al.), but LA COMEDIE-FRANCAISE, like 1995's BALLET (about the American Ballet Theater), looks closely at a venerable arts organization.
Nevertheless, through his subtle but deliberate editing of the many hours of rehearsals, performances, stage crew preparations, and behind-the-scenes business meetings, Wiseman makes important statements about the politics of gender, race, class, and the role of art in the culture.
Yes, the excerpts from Moliere and Marivaux are entertaining, but the real strength of this documentary comes from the contrasts between the actions onstage and off (and how they sometimes mirror each other). Despite what may seem to some like an excessive running time (3 hours, 40 minutes), every
scene--every movement and gesture, really--says volumes about a variety of issues.
Notwithstanding the touching finale set in the government-sponsored actor's home, LA COMEDIE-FRANCAISE refuses to opt for easy answers to its probing questions; instead, it makes a consistently incisive and thoughtful critique. (Profanity.)
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- Released: 1996
- Rating: NR
- Review: Frederick Wiseman continues his unexpected but fascinating meditation on high-art culture with LA COMEDIE-FRANCAISE OU L'AMOUR JOUE (THE GAMES OF LOVE), the documentarian's 29th film, and his first made about a non-American subject. Over the winter months… (more)