Saturday, May 22, 1982
The Michigan Daily
'Woman' almost wins you over
By Chris Case
THE WOMAN Next Door, Francois
Truffaut's most recent film, is
about obsession, love and unhappiness
- things that matter. It's charming and
sad and hard not to like.
It is also often stagey and
melodramatic, but then so is life.
Mathilde Bauchard (Fanny Ardant) is
forever embarrassing herself: she fain-
ts when kissing her lover, has a nervous
breakdown in the bushes at one party,
and rips her dress ona chair in such a
way that it falls off. Breakdowns are
not funny, unplanned nudity can be, and.
fainting from a kiss in a supermarket
parking lot definitely should be.
But this is not a funny movie. Is it
realism or old world charm? Do the
French really behave like this?
Woman revolves around the relation-
ship between Mathilde Bauchard and
Bernard Coudray (Gerard Depardieu),
who revive a tortuous and very old love
affair when Mathilde and her husband,
Philippe (Henri Garcin) happen to
move into the house next door to Ber-
nard's. Both Bernard and Mathilde
claim and seem to be happily married.
They love and respect their spouses,
smile often, dress well, and live in nice
The beauty of this film lies chiefly in
the way these layers of tenuous hap-
piness and complacency are stripped
away to reveal something more raw
and tender, prone zones in these people
that have been burned and never
healed. Truffaut undresses his charac-
ters to show more than just their skin;
we get glimpses of their souls.
But the film has problems and the
main problem may lie in the fact that
Bernard 'undressed' is not much more
interesting than the very clothed Ber-
nard of the opening scene; he's a
curiously bland character. Gerard
Depardieu is, like all the actresses and
actors in the film, both sincere and
pleasant to look at, but he's also awk-
ward and unsure of himself. Nothing
he does seems for real; it's all thought-
out and self-conscious.
It may be that Bernard as a charac-
ter is meant to be this way. After all, his
life's work is teachingpotential tanker
pilots to maneuver absurdly small
miniatures around something like a
duck pond. It's not as hard to take Ber-
nard seriously as it is to take his job so,
yet something is missing.
We're supposed to believe there's
something dangerous and scary about
Bernard, but there isn't, really, and
anything scary about him pales in com-
parison to what's scary about Mathilde,
who draws too much blood in the
children's books she creates and makes
us nervous when she's alone with little
The only dangerous thing about Ber-
nard is his blindness to the severity of
Mathilde's obsession with him. This in-
sensitivity and his boyish confusion
about what he does and doesn't want set
up the only tensions in our perception of
him; without them he is as dull and
realistic a character as any you're
likely to come across. ,
It's gotten to the point at which I ex-
pect little more than a few moments of
completely genuine excitement and in-
terest in any given new film. Woman
provides more of these moments than
much of the stuff released this year, but
too often they are cut short.
Characters make interesting and
provocative statements only to have the
subjects they breach largely ignored.
Philippe blurts out to wife Mathilde that
"men never understand love." This is
controversial and thought-provoking
and certainly bears discussion. We get
virtually nothing. Instead, Philippe
recedes into the background of the film
and says little else of significance.
Similarly, Bernard's wife, Arlette
(Michele Baumgartner), says to Ber-
nard that she is "jealous of her
[Mathilde], of you, of your suffering,"
which might strike one as an odd stat-
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