Alain Resnais latest film Not on the Lips (Pas sur la Bouche) is in many ways a follow-up to his 1997 effort On connat la chanson ("Same old Song"), a highly successful film in its native France but unfortunately it didnt carry over well to other territories. Both films are light-weight musicals (for the most part), and if that surprises a few people -- a few critics already are -- then they obviously havent seen Resnais other recent "theatrical" efforts such as Smoking/No Smoking, Je veux rentrer la maison, and Melo. However, the reaction shouldnt be all that perplexing if one takes in consideration that in this master has directed such monumental films like Night and Fog, Hiroshima Mon Amour, and Last Year at Marienbad.
Based on a 1925 operetta by Andr Barde and Maurice Yvain, this rom-zom-com...sorry, romantic-musical-comedy follows the oft-repeated traditions of old-fashioned French farces, but thats not a slight by any means, Resnais' agenda here is to adapt those traditions in order to either comment on them, or, in some cases, even push them to the limit. Sabine Azma is Gilberte, a wealthy dame who has successfully hidden her first marriage from her abiding new husband Georges (Pierre Arditi). Trouble arises when she discovers that her ex-husband, Eric Thomson (Lambert Wilson) -- a wealthy American Industrialist -- is about to finish a business deal with Georges. In the meantime, shes in the process of enticing Charly (Jalil Lespert), a young artist whos also being eyed by a young Verberie (Audrey Tautou). Rounding out the conundrum are Gilbertes inarticulate sister Arlette (Isabelle Nanty) and yet another lover Faradel (Daniel Prvost).
All characters put on a grand show in front of everyone else, mostly for selfish reasons. But if anyone is as familiar with MGM musicals of the 40's and 50's as Resnais seems to be, then they'll know in advance how this one will end. All actors sing in their own voices which only adds to the incongruent texture of their performances, and that along with the musical numbers themselves, the artful mise-en-scne helped by the lush photography from DP Renato Berta, innuendo-laced dialogue etc. provide elegant yet intoxicating entertainment. It may sound like it but its not all camp folks; If you listen to it carefully, Resnais has much to say about the social values present at that time (or even now), and he goes further to comment on gender relations, martial values and adultery. But in the end, it all comes down to purity, or at least how it's represented - hence the title.
*NOT ON THE LIPS is now available on DVD in the U.S. from Wellspring.