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And Now ...Ladies and Gentlemen

L'AMOUR ENCORE

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Bittersweet love stories don't get much more contrived, pretentious, amorphous and enjoyable than And Now & Ladies and Gentlemen, a mishmash of melancholy, metaphor, music, crime and axioms from Claude Lelouche, the French director who earned himself a small dot on the map of international cinema in 1966 with A Man and a Woman, and whom film cartographers since then have pretty much never bothered to remove.

A Man and a Woman was about a working-class widow and widower who fall in love. And Now & Ladies and Gentlemen is about two people, equally sad, who also need a shot of love to get on with their lives. But now the characters and the settings are far more international. Jane (Patricia Kaas, who has some Felicity Huffman going on) is a French nightclub singer suffering amnesiac blackouts that cause her to drive her car in circles around Les Invalides and to imagine that she sees an orchestra playing. Valentin (Jeremy Irons) is a master- (and mistress-) of-disguise British jewel thief, working in Paris and partial to Bvlgari outlets, who's suffering -- what are the chances? -- amnesiac blackouts that cause him to dream that he's robbing jewelry stores.

The two don't meet until the start of the film's second hour, and when they do it's in Morocco, where Jane is passing a month singing at an Accor hotel, and where Valentin has temporarily moored his life-long dream boat on a solo world tour. Something ails them both, and it's more than whatever is inside their heads. So naturally, once they find each other, they communicate in the doleful lingua franca of lost souls: loneliness, disillusionment and ennui.

Oh, yes: and French. For Ladies and Gentlemen would be only a shadow of its wise self had its characters been unable to fluently say things to each other like: "Life is a deep sleep of which love is the dream," or "marriage is love's perfect murder," or "lies are dreams caught red-handed," or "doctors are for illnesses that go away on their own." (Jane eventually consults a chanting Moroccan healer, who refers her to a spirit who's been dead for 150 years.) These rhetorical gems speckle the movie like Jane's piano-bar songs, which are a mix of American and French pop, jazz and especially blues, including a lovely rendition of "My Man" in French (the words sound different, but the melody sings).

It's all terribly entertaining, exotic and a bit silly, with the ageless (albeit aging) Claudia Cardinale in a supporting role as a flighty Italian socialite whose jewels go missing, and with the always subtle, complex, witty and intelligent acting of Jeremy Irons still a treat. Kaas, too, performs splendidly in song, and the soundtrack includes spots of original music by (bien sur) Michel Legrande. All in all, not a bad way to spend a few hours, especially if the alternative is Johnny Depp flouncing around in a pirate suit or, worse yet, Arnold on the campaign trail. In French and some English, with subtitles.


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