L’AMOUR FOU – Review by Diane Carson

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L’Amour Fou tracks the mad love of Claire and Sébastien

In 1969, celebrated French New Wave director and co-writer Jacques Rivette created an engrossing, yet demanding film, L’Amour Fou. Translated as “mad love” or “obsessive passion,” the title accurately signals the tortuous, convoluted love between actress Claire and husband, theater director Sébastien. In the throes of rehearsing Racine’s Andromache for television broadcast, Claire unexpectedly quits her lead role.

Surprised and a bit desperate, Sébastien replaces her with his ex-wife Marta as a fraught, three week rehearsal process ensues. Complicating the tension, a documentary film crew, led by actual tv director André S. Labarthe, is on hand recording events and interviewing actors. He works in 16 millimeter while Rivette’s cinematographers shoot 35 millimeter, thereby separating two similar worlds of conflicting demands.

Exemplary of director Jacques Rivette’s own obsessive passion, L’Amour Fou runs four hours twelve minutes. In Euripides’ Greek tragedy, Andromache, the devoted wife of Hector, becomes a slave after the Trojan War, subservient to Pyrrhus, played by Sébastien in his reinterpretation of Racine’s version which focuses on unrequited love involving Orestes, Hermione, Pyrrhus, and Andromache. Parallels emerge slowly but unmistakably between the two realms. Emphasizing that, the film balances frequent crosscutting between play rehearsals and Claire and Sébastien’s unraveling private life as she and he clash over his romantic involvements and her distressed reaction to him. Claire’s friend Francoise offers a sympathetic ear, though Claire is clearly a woman in emotional straits.

At one point late in the film, Sébastien explains, “You’re not selling them a product to make them happy. We’re making an effort to bring them a text.” Though he’s describing the theatrical production of “Andromache,” he offers philosophical insight into “L’Amour Fou,” as long takes and slow developments reward the necessarily patient viewer with a rich study of art, cinema, and life. L’Amour Fou is in French with English subtitles.

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Diane Carson

Diane Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, has reviewed films for over 25 years and has covered the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, and Sundance festivals. She writes for KDHX, 88.1 FM. St. Louis’ community radio. One of the founders of the St. Louis International Film Festival, she continues to serve on juries. A past president of the University Film and Video Association, she taught film studies and production at St. Louis Community College and at Webster University. Her new book, written with two colleagues, is “Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation,” Wayne State U. Press, 2014.