A stark parable of love betrayed, LA DISCRETE boasts two strong lead performances and sharp direction by Christian Vincent, who also co-wrote the richly detailed screenplay with Jean-Pierre Ronssin.
Both young and prematurely jaded Parisians, Antoine (Fabrice Luchini) and Catherine (Judith Henry) would hardly be anyone's idealistic idea of romantic young lovers. A government clerk who freelances as a rewrite editor of upscale pornography, Antoine prides himself on being a
love-'em-and-leave-'em type who has recently been dumped for the first time by his latest conquest, Solange (Marje Bunel), leaving him angry and eager for revenge. Egged on by his vaguely demonic editor Jean (Maurice Garrel)--whom Vincent frames in his office surrounded by manuscript boxes bearing
the scrawled name of "Sade" on their spines--Antoine enters into a hellish agreement to seduce, humiliate and abandon a woman while recording the details in an erotic journal to be published by Jean for wealthy patrons.
Antoine's quarry turns out to be the gamine-like Catherine, whom he initially lures with the promise of freelance secretarial work. No innocent herself, Catherine has had to leave her London job as an au pair after an affair she was having with her employer's husband started to turn serious. Weary
of men who just want her for sex, she has avoided involvements. She nevertheless finds herself attracted to Antoine despite his transparent attempts to manipulate her by alternating cruelty and indifference with charm and flowers. Instead, she becomes the manipulator, testing his devotion even as
he maintains the fiction in his "journal" that he is in control. When something like a conscience begins asserting itself, Antoine tries quitting the project, but Jean angrily holds him to their agreement.
Once Antoine accomplishes his "goal" he finds he has fallen completely in love with Catherine and submits his resignation as she is about to leave for a weekend with her parents in the country. Seeking revenge of his own, Jean contacts Catherine with a new assignment--typing Antoine's "memoir."
After reading the document, she writes to Antoine, breaking off their relationship without giving any reason. Antoine returns to his favorite haunt, a cafe where his relationship with Catherine had blossomed, to meet Solange.
Vincent recognizes an essential but ugly truth that lies at the core of this heart-wrenching tale--that we tend to try to make over our lovers to fit our own ideals and fantasies. Vincent gets rich comic mileage out of the disparity between Antoine's writings, which appear as voiceover narration,
and the truth. While Catherine is indifferent, Antoine writes of how she is beginning to yield to his "diabolical" stratagems. To his editor, Antoine feigns indifference, claiming that Catherine is too homely and too plain to be a worthy conquest. Yet, as Antoine continues to scribble, Catherine
captures his heart through the transformative power of his art, however degraded. As he recreates her as a fictional character, she takes on an irresistible attraction to him, and almost against her will, she becomes the woman he has created in his writing--bright, charming and overpoweringly
sensual. Yet again, art also betrays when Jean betrays Antoine simply by revealing to Catherine the original motivation for his courtship of her.
As it does in life, art creates and art destroys. As it does to Antoine, art lays bare our basest instincts for actions, existing as a permanent record of the contemptible reasons we often have for doing what turn out to be good things. For all the spare, economical elegance and subtle power with
which LA DISCRETE (the title refers to the code name Antoine gives Catherine in his manuscript) articulates its themes, it never appears to be manipulated or manipulative. Rather its themes grow from the material and the characters, acted with passion and realism by its players. Richly ironic,
erotic, ephemeral, intellectually provocative and downright earthy, LA DISCRETE is one of those deceptively small films that rocks the soul with its almost offhanded insights into eternal human truths. It's as good as Rohmer's best, with a lot less talk and a much harder edge. (Adult situations,nudity.)
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- Released: 1990
- Rating: NR
- Review: A stark parable of love betrayed, LA DISCRETE boasts two strong lead performances and sharp direction by Christian Vincent, who also co-wrote the richly detailed screenplay with Jean-Pierre Ronssin. Both young and prematurely jaded Parisians, Antoine (Fab… (more)