Petites Coupures Review
Bruno Beckman (Daniel Auteuil) is a Parisian journalist for a Communist newspaper whose personal life, like his political ideology, is in a bit of turmoil. His wife, Gaëlle (Emmanuelle Devos) has just left him, aware of his infidelity with a young girl, Nathalie (Ludivine Sagnier), unwittingly revealed to her by the girl herself in a chance meeting on the street. He takes Nathalie with him on a visit to his uncle, Gérard Semain (Jean Yanne), the Communist mayor of a small town near Grenoble. Nathalie soon brutally discovers that Bruno doesn’t really love her and she leaves with Gérard’s son. Semain’s knows that his wife is cheating on him and asks Bruno to deliver a letter to the man, Verekher (Hanns Zischler). There he meets Verekher’s wife Béatrice (Kristin Scott Thomas) and his entangled love-life becomes even more complicated.
Rather like his script for Jacques Rivette’s Va Savoir, Bonitzer’s freewheeling storyline careens from one event to the next, aided by little linking features – lipstick, a gun, a ring – whose only object is to create situations, move them forward and give a form of continuity to the film. It’s a very arch, stylised and deliberate technique that is no cleverer here than it was in Va Savoir, which is also built around constantly shifting romantic complications. Each situation that Bruno finds himself in has a murky past, a barely hinted depth – old enmities, secret affairs, characters tormented by past actions and mistakes. Through all this Bruno drags himself, like Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe, not so much looking for answers as being the catalyst that drags these sordid secrets out into the open. Also like a world-weary private detective, he gets mixed up with femme fatales, dangerous dames and jealous husbands, picking up a few knocks and cuts along the way, the petites coupures (tiny cuts) of the title.
The film only threatens occasionally to develop into something more meaningful than the mechanical, intellectualised and deliberate contrivances of the scenario. This is almost entirely down to the performances of the actors - particularly Kristin Scott Thomas as Béatrice - who work hard to invest their characters with some personality and give them some meaning beyond being pawns that guide Bruno onto the next situation. In the end none of them really hold any more meaning for Bonitzer than the ring or the lipstick or the gun – they are all just pieces to be moved around this chessboard of a film towards the final checkmate of the King by the Queen.
The anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer is clear and sharp, with no marks or scratches and a pleasing level of grain. Outdoor close-ups and the beautiful late-autumn/winter landscapes of the Rhône-Alpes region (also shown to good effect recently in Lucas Belvaux’s Trilogie and Christian Carion’s The Girl From Paris), look stunning, the transfer handling the dark and sombre tones of the film exceptionally well. The dual-layer change is badly placed in the film, mid-sentence, cutting off for a second the optional English subtitles.
A standard Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is included here on the Artificial Eye release and it is more than sufficient. It’s clear and strong and front-centre based, widening out for the music and occasional wider sound effects.
The main extra feature on the disc is an excellent Making of Documentary (40:51). Normally, I’m not a big fan of behind-the-scenes footage, but in the case of this film it is interesting to see the actors working, rehearsing and trying to bring something out of their lines. The documentary includes good interviews with cast and crew – only a little mutual flattery, but more on figuring out the characters and how they are handled in the film. Three short 28 second Trailers are included, each showcasing one of the romantic situations in the film. The extras features are rounded-out with Filmographies for Pascal Bonitzer, Daniel Auteuil and Kristin Scott Thomas.
There are lots of great actors here – Auteuil (Un Coeur en Hiver), Scott Thomas (Gosford Park), Sagnier (Swimming Pool), Devos (Read My Lips), and they all get to perform wonderful little dramatic sequences, none of which add up to anything significant, but such acting is always a joy to watch. There are better ways to employ actors like these though (any of the above named films for example) and I’m sure there are better ways of spending your time than sitting through this. Petites Coupures is a pleasantly diverting film for the acting performances, but it’s ultimately slight, inconsequential and uninteresting. The quality of the DVD presentation and the extra features however cannot be faulted.