A Doomed Love Triangle
Master director Alain Resnais adapted “Melo” from Henri Bernstein s classic play about a doomed love triangle in 1920s Paris. Pierre (Pierre Arditi) and Marcel (André Dussollier) are both celebrated concert violinists and lifelong friends, despite their differing temperaments. Pierre is modest, sensitive and content with his lot; Marcel is hungry, driven, and pursues a solo career that takes him to the four corners of the world. After spending years apart, the two friends reunite when Pierre invites Marcel to his home for dinner. It is then that Marcel first meets Pierre’s wife Romaine (Sabine Azéma) and thus begins a passionate affair that can only end in tragedy. “Melo” is a hidden gem in Resnais celebrated body of work waiting to be rediscovered.
The film is set behind a proscenium arch and has a classical music background and boasts excellent nuanced performances from the three leads..
Marcel has a dinner-date with his old friend from their days at the music conservatory, Pierre, a contented second-rate orchestra musician who lives in a suburban cottage, in Montrouge just outside Paris, this led to Pierre’s falling in love with Marcel’s attractive pianist wife Romaine after she’s captivated over hearing him tell his life story. She chases after the wealthy, suave and talented violinist and they have a passionate affair. When Marcel goes on a tour, the tormented woman commits suicide when her plans to poison her good-natured husband are interrupted by a nosy doctor. The last act has Pierre calling on Marcel and the two dance around the death of Romaine, with a depressed Pierre reaching out to somehow forgive his friend who will still not admit he cheated with his best friend’s wife. Pierre’s purpose of the meeting after many years of not seeing his friend is to retain his wife’s good name, whom he still loves despite later learning of her disloyalty, as he will not allow for any mention of the illicit affair.
This is an elegant and well-crafted drama that wrestles with broad ideas of love, honesty and drama. We see pain from among the Brahms’ sonatas, and melodramatics that were dated long ago. I am a great fan of Alain Resnais whose famous films quite often revolve around doomed love affairs. “Mélo” is a story of adultery where the cards are all shown, a melodrama that shares all its secrets and displays the consequences of each.
Set in 1926, we meet longtime friends who both play the violin professionally and who did not expect the love affair to happen. The seduction of Marcel is one of many great scenes in “Mélo” and one where Azema truly shines. She plays every trick: she is knowing and open, but also coy and demure; shameless, yet protective. She invites, then denies, and then accepts Marcel’s advances when he finally propositions her as if it were his own idea. What begins as a lark quickly becomes heavy, however, and when Marcel is due to go on tour, large promises are made. Romaine vows to end her marriage with Pierre before Marcel gets back, a task easier said than done when Pierre grows gravely ill. It is here that Resnais, who also wrote the screenplay, gets tricky, letting the melodrama veer into more pulpy territory, making suggestions of what the true cause of Pierre’s illness is with just a few well-placed–and ultimately unexplained–hints. He even plays with the paradigm of good woman and bad, making Romaine the reluctant femme fatale in contrast to her more virtuous cousin (Fanny Ardant).
Resnais plays up the theatrical origins of “Mélo” by shooting long portions of the scenes as single, uncut takes, and dividing them with the image of a red curtain, a filmic fade-in/fade-out. The opening credits are printed in a playbook, the pages being turned on screen. Amazingly, though, the film does not become overly stagey. Even as the actors talk, he moves the camera around them, never settling longer than makes sense on a single shot, choosing when to stand still, pan, or cut based on the emotional tenor of the script. His control of the film is remarkable. Each moment appears spontaneous, but the spontaneity that only careful planning can inspire.
As the film progresses, the secrets grow more pronounced, and the thrill of romance gives way to rash decisions and great despair. Sabine Azema as Romaine is the driving force throughout, but both male actors are excellent as the men driven to distraction by desire for her. All the performances are compellingly physical despite all the scenes being confined to a single space.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
Brand new 2K restoration of the film
High Definition Blu-Ray (1080p) presentation
Original 2.0 Stereo soundtrack
Optional English subtitles
Newly-filmed introduction by critic Jonathan Romney
Archive interview with director Alain Resnais
Archive interview with producer Marin Karmitz
Archive interviews with actors Pierre Arditi and André Dussolier
Archive interview with script supervisor Sylvette Baudrot
Archive interview with set designer Jacques Saulnier
Reversible sleeve featuring original artwork
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Bilge Ebiri