A musical comedy from one of the Nouvelle Vague's most rigorous aesthetes? Densely plotted and endearingly neurotic, SAME OLD SONG is Alain Resnais's tribute to the work of brilliant British tele-playwright Dennis Potter (THE SINGING DETECTIVE). As befits Resnais's past work, the film is
an intricately structured piece, but its good-natured charm and likeable cast of characters ensure that it will strike a chord in the hearts of lovestruck city-dwellers everywhere.
In present-day Paris, tour guide Camille (Agnes Jaoui) encounters Nicolas (Jean-Pierre Bacri), who's newly arrived in town, and is interested in meeting with his ex-girlfriend, Camille's sister Odile (Sabine Azema). Nicolas has dinner with Odile and her husband Claude (Pierre Artidi), and
discusses how he's looking for an apartment for himself, his wife, and their two children. He also talks about the fact that he's been unable to find a doctor who can diagnose the unspecified malady from which he's suffering.
In the meantime, Camille has been busily preparing her doctoral thesis on an obscure historical topic; while doing research, she meets Simon (Andre Dussollier), who has been frequenting Camille's tour groups. He is infatuated with her, but treads lightly. Camille soon meets and falls for Odile's
realtor Marc (Lambert Wilson), who has found a dream apartment, with a marvelous view of the Parisian skyline, for Odile and Claude.
Simon becomes a close friend and confidante of Camille, but he continues to tell her about a sideline of his (writing radio plays), rather than admit to his more staid job--he, in fact, works for the very bossy Marc at the realty office. Camille's moment of truth arrives: she makes the
presentation of her doctoral thesis, and has a panic attack afterwards. Though she has no life-threatening malady, her unnameable "nervous disorder" comes to dominate her life. Simon attempts to lift her depressed spirits, but is hurt by the discovery that Marc is her boyfriend. Claude and Odile,
meanwhile, are preparing to move into their new apartment. What the always-in-control Odile doesn't know is that Claude is planning to leave her for another woman. Nicolas also has marital troubles: his wife Jane (Jane Birkin) arrives in town to check on his progress in finding an apartment; he
reveals that he still hasn't settled on anything. The two argue, and Jane returns home.
The night of Odile and Claude's housewarming party arrives, and various truths emerge. Firstly, Nicolas and Camille speak about their respective maladies, and find strength in the fact that they both suffer from the same mixture of depression and anxiety. Then, Simon reveals to Nicolas the
"secret" about Odile's dream apartment: its idyllic view will soon be blocked by a housing project. Nicolas informs Odile, and in a complete turnabout, Claude comforts her and tells off Marc, instead of saying farewell to Odile. Having learned of Marc's duplicity, Camille breaks with him, leaving
Simon a chance to become more central in her life. Nicolas speaks on the phone to Jane, attempting to iron out their difficulties.
While honoring the spirit of Dennis Potter's musical fantasies (PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, "Lipstick on Your Collar"), Resnais adds a new wrinkle to Potter's powerful technique of having characters suddenly lip-synch to popular music: the characters here only mouth parts of the songs chosen by Resnais
and scripters Agnes Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri. The lyrics serve as supplementary dialogue to illuminate their feelings about a situation; often, only a few short lines of a song are used, and the characters immediately return to the "reality" of the situation. Resnais's approach thus integrates
the music more fully into the proceedings, but also proves mildly frustrating, as songs are introduced and then quickly discarded. One can only surmise from this that Resnais's connection to the music being played is not as strong or emotional as Potter's was. Resnais's love of "standard" popular
music shone through in GERSHWIN, his 1991 television documentary about the life of the composer, but SAME OLD SONG goes for long stretches without any musical "punctuation," thus almost negating the evocative strength of Potter's technique. In addition, American viewers will be further intrigued
and frustrated by the sudden disposal of the music, as the songs contained in the film are a range of French pop hits from the 1930s to the '80s, none being familiar to American ears.
This single stylistic quirk aside, the film is a delightful study of modern love that benefits from a top-notch ensemble cast and witty scripting. Jaoui and Bacri (who also scripted UN AIR DE FAMILLE, released in the US in 1998) offer some perceptive insights about various types (the control
freak, the constant worrier, the user) in a surprisingly light and airy package. They also turn in fine performances as the most angst-ridden of the bunch.
The film's careful structure obviously originated with the screenplay, but Resnais's consistent approach to the material, and his emphasis on the hope that love offers each of the characters, makes this one of the most accessible, and strictly entertaining, projects he's ever worked on. Thus it
was no surprise the film was his most popular in Europe since his last comedy, MON ONCLE D'AMERIQUE (1980). And with its profusion of characters, plots, and snippets of songs, SAME OLD SONG qualifies as yet another Resnais film that becomes richer with repeated viewings. (Adult situations.)
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- Released: 1997
- Rating: NR
- Review: A musical comedy from one of the Nouvelle Vague's most rigorous aesthetes? Densely plotted and endearingly neurotic, SAME OLD SONG is Alain Resnais's tribute to the work of brilliant British tele-playwright Dennis Potter (THE SINGING DETECTIVE). As befits… (more)