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The Baltimore Sun

L'Ennui (Boredom)


Friday October 15, 1999

     Cedric Kahn's relentless "L'Ennui" is such a rigorous exploration of sexual obsession that it proves to be a most demanding film. Virtually devoid of eroticism and sensuality, it depicts with the utmost realism a 17-year-old girl and a fortysomething philosophy professor engaging frequently in raw, intense sex that leaves the girl content and the man craving for much more in the way of fulfillment.
     Life has turned sour for Charles Berling's Martin. He and his sophisticated wife Sophie (Arielle Dombasle) have split up some six months earlier. Teaching no longer gives him pleasure or meaning, and he can't get started on the book he means to write. He hasn't made love since his marriage broke up.
     One aimless night he wanders into a tawdry bar where a doorman starts beating up an older man (Robert Kramer, the noted independent filmmaker) when he can't pay for his drinks. Martin comes to the man's rescue and in short order learns that he is a painter whose passion for his teenage model Cecilia (Sophie Guillemin) proves fatal mere hours after their meeting. Martin is immediately intrigued and swiftly replaces the painter in Cecilia's life.
     With a lush body and a doll-like face, Cecilia, whose maddening simplicity is her strength, combines a robust sexual appetite with minimal personality. Although not stupid, she is resolutely unreflective and not curious. She says she loves Martin and may mean it, but she's too obdurate by nature for Martin to ever possess her. Her implacable ordinariness provides Martin with a challenge that only heightens her attraction for him, driving this totally self-absorbed and neurotic intellectual to the brink of madness.
     That she is also involved with an actor more her age gets the instantly jealous Martin really teetering on the brink. It's not that Cecilia is manipulative--in fact she accommodates herself well to so possessive a lover--but that Martin, in his despair and desperation craves from her the kind of rapture that is beyond the teenager's depth. Cecilia seems lacking in capacity as well as inclination.
     Since the nature of the glum, complex Martin and the stolid, uncomplicated Cecilia's relationship, as well as the radical differences in their temperaments and intellects are clear from the start, "L'Ennui" becomes grueling to watch, even as it commands respect for its uncompromising, clear-eyed perspective. Even so, Berling and Guillemin are remarkably selfless and authentic in their portrayals, and "L'Ennui, adapted from a vintage Alberto Moravia novel, rewards the patient with an ending that strikes just the right note.
     (Note: In 1964, the same novel was reworked unsuccessfully as "The Empty Canvas," in which painter Horst Buchholz was obsessed with model Catherine Spaak; Bette Davis, no less, played Buchholz's mother.)

L'Ennui (Boredom), 1999. Unrated. A Phaedra Cinema presentation of a co-production of Gemini Films and IMA Films, with the participation of Canal Plus and CNC. Director Cedric Kahn. Producer Paulo Branco. Screenplay by Kahn and Laurence Ferreira Barbosa; based on the novel "La Noia" by Alberto Moravia. Cinematographer Pascal Marti. Editor Yann Dedet. Costumes Francoise Clavel. Production designer Francois Abelanet. In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes. Willem Dafoe as X. Christopher Walken as Fox. Asia Argento as Sandi. Yoshitaka Amano as Hiroshi. David Hyde Pierce as Narrator. Mackenzie Astin as The Male (Billy). Carmen Electra as The Female (Jenny). Markus Redmond as The Male's Friend. Lucy Liu as The Female's Friend. Fernando Fernan-Gomez as Don Rodrigo. Rafael Alonso as Don Pio Coronado. Cayetana Guillen Cuervo as Lucrecia. Agustin Gonzalez as Senen. Valerie Red-Horse as Vickie Lewis Bighawk. Irene Bedard as Tanya Lewis. Kimberly Norris Guerrero as Karen Lewis. Pato Hoffmann as Steve Bighawk. Danny Hoch as Flip. Dash Mihok as James. Mark Webber as Trevor. Piper Perabo as Sara. Eugene Byrd as Khalid. Bonz Malone as Darius. Molly Shannon as Mary Katherine Gallagher. Will Ferrell as Sky. Elaine Hendrix as Evian. Harland Williams as Slater. Mark McKinney as Father Ritley. Glynis Johns as Grandma. Terence Stamp as Wilson. Peter Fonda as Terry Valentine. Lesley Ann Warren as Elaine. Luis Guzman as Ed. Barry Newman as Avery. Harrison Ford as Dutch Van Den Broeck. Kristin Scott Thomas as Kay Chandler. Charles S. Dutton as Alcee. Bonnie Hunt as Wendy Judd. Dennis Haysbert as Det. George Beautfort. Carl Broman as Sydney Pollack. Ewen Bremner as Julien. Chloe Sevigny as Pearl. Werner Herzog as Father. Evan Neumann as Chris. Richard Farnsworth as Alvin Straight. Sissy Spacek as Rose Straight. Harry Dean Stanton as Lyle Straight. Daniel Chilson as John (Griff) Griffith. Niklaus Lange as Todd Bentley. Don Handfield as Pete Bradley. Linna Carter as Denetra Washington. Pierre Arditi as Claude. Sabine Azema as Odile Lalande. Jean-Pierre Bacri as Nicolas. Andre Dussolier as Simon. Agnes Jaoui as Camille Lalande. Lambert Wilson as Marc. Charles Berling as Martin. Sophie Guillemin as Cecilia. Arielle Dombasle as Sophie. Robert Kramer as Meyers.

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