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Alain Resnais Mélo Review

Disc Reviews

Resnais Explores a History of Violins in Doomed Love Triangle “Mélo” (1986) | Blu-ray Review

Resnais Explores a History of Violins in Doomed Love Triangle “Mélo” (1986) | Blu-ray Review

For the second-to-last feature Alain Resnais made in the 1980s, Mélo (1986) is arguably his most accessible, set in 1920s Paris and based on a play by Henri Bernstein (which was originally adapted as a 1932 German film). The idiosyncrasies of titles like My American Uncle (1980) and Love Unto Death (1984) are nowhere to be seen in this cramped chamber piece, which would mimic the vibes of his late period adaptations of playwright Alan Ayckbourn. Love as an unpredictable force of nature, however, remains a central favored motif, as acted upon by his usual cast of actors, wife Sabiné Azema and his onscreen stand-in André Dussollier (with Fanny Ardant, who starred in three of his features during this period). A somber affair about the decimation wrought on a quartet of people experiencing unrequited or socially inhibited attraction, it’s a classy, if perilously somber affair from the auteur’s neglected later works.

Pierre (Pierre Arditi) and Marcel (Dussollier) are celebrated violinists who have maintained a friendship over the years despite their differences. Pierre is a sensitive, thoughtful homebody, while Marcel is driven by fame and fortune. After several years apart, Pierre invites Marcel to his home for dinner, where his friend first meets his new wife, Romaine (Azema). As the three chat the night away, an attraction builds between Romaine and Marcel. As time passes, this turns into a passionate affair and Romaine’s behavior begins to change, while her cousin Christiane (Ardant) waits for her chance to act on her own desire for Pierre.

Although one of Resnais’ more obscure titles, Mélo scooped up eight Cesar award nominations the year it was released, with Azema and Arditi picking up Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor statues. Azema is particularly adept at playing indecisive women with complex, often clashing desires or allegiances. As a 1920s flapper, she’s a delight to watch, particularly in her playful exchanges with Arditi, which we come to understand are behaviors used to uphold their façade of contentedness. The dependence on musical symbiosis, of pianist and violinist, recalls a slew of famed doomed love stories (Intermezzo, both versions, immediately comes to mind). However, Azema’s behaviors and eventual decision recalls Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz (2011) as well, both in how it navigates the secret language between intimates and the nauseous intermingling of dread and desire with a new attraction.

Arditi’s performance takes off in the film’s third act, but an exchange with Azema as she leaves him in his sick bed to see her lover, returning to do manic somersaults as a ploy allowing them to skirt past their problems, nails the tragic undertones beautifully. The effervescent Fanny Ardant is only allowed a few bits of doting tenderness and concerned handwringing while Dussollier is a melancholic lothario who satisfies Azema’s requirements of a brooding genius who exists on a different musical continuum than her husband. If the protagonist of Resnais’ 1968 oddity Je t’aime, Je t’aime is stuck in a Sisyphean nightmare of memory, then Mélo is its linear structured counterpart, positioning love as a fragile thing unable to survive changing seasons.

Disc Review:

Arrow Academy presents Mélo in 1.66:1, while picture and sound quality are well attenuated in this new 2K restoration. Claustrophobic interiors make up the majority of DP Charles Van Damme’s frames (whose work on Agnes Varda’s One Sings, the Other Doesn’t has also just been refurbished courtesy of the Criterion Collection).

Jonathan Romney on Mélo:
Film critic Jonathan Romney presents this new fifteen-minute video appreciation of Mélo, which he asserts was a means for the director’s attempt at reclaiming theater.

Six archival interviews are included (Alain Resnais; Marin Karmitz; Pierre Arditi; Andre Dussollier; Sylvette Baudrot; Jacques Saulnier).

Film Rating: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Rating: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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