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aka - Private Fears In Public Places
France 2006
Directed by
Alain Resnais
125 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4 stars


Synopsis: Thierry (Andre Dussolier) is a real estate agent, helping Nicole (Laura Morante) and her ex-army alcoholic fiancé Dan (Lambert Wilson) find a new apartment. His secretary, Charlotte (Sabine Azema), a devout Christian, works nights as a carer to the father of Lionel (Pierre Arditi), who tends bar at one of Dan’s favourite watering holes. Charlotte is fond of lending videotapes to her boss but they are not always what they purport to be. Meanwhile Thierry’s sister Gaëlle, with whom he lives, is constantly searching for Mr Right.

Iconic French New Wave director Alain Resnais is now 85 years old with two of his films in particular, Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) and Last Year at Marienbad (1961), being gilt-edged classics of the period.  But don’t worry, even if you are unfamiliar with his work you will find this adaptation of a play by one of England’s famed playwrights, Alan Ayckbourn, a beautiful, at times humorous, but mostly very sad film about people, their loneliness, alienation and their attempts to reach out to each other.

Interweaving three parallel stories, each scene is very short with the film jumping from incident to incident, seemingly randomly until we start to see how all the characters interlink. Each scene is divided from the next not by a dissolve or sweep, but by falling snow, a symbol of winter melancholy rather than Christmas cheer.

There are a very limited number of settings – the bar where Dan drinks and asks Lionel for some worldly advice; the real estate office where Thierry adores Charlotte from a desk the other side of a glass wall; Thierry and Gaëlle’s home, where their considerable age difference make them more like a father and daughter than brother and sister, Dan and Nicole’s home, and the apartments that the couple go to look at. Sometimes the camera looks from overhead down on the people walking through these apartments as if to emphasise the walls that divide us and the constraints of our lives.

The casting of this film is excellent with each actor bringing authenticity to his or her character. Dussolier is a well-known face to lovers of French cinema whilst Morante is, as always, a powerful screen presence and for this role she won Best Actress at the 2006 Venice Film Festival with the film itself taking out the Silver Bear award. Wilson (recognisable for many as the Merovingian in the Matrix series) is fine as Dan, a thoroughly disagreeable character, for whom one still feels a modicum of sympathy. Pierre Arditi is marvellous as the sad, urbane barman who has his own troubles with his cantankerous father yet always finds the time to show kindness to his customers. Sabine Azema is quite superb as Charlotte, a woman who is, to say the least, a dark horse, whilst Isabelle Carré brings a sweet sadness to her lonely character, Gaëlle, who, rather surprisingly, comes home disappointed after waiting in bars for blind dates who never show.

As its French title (which translates as "hearts") suggest Coeurs is a film that gets to the heart of human loneliness, at least as it is in the City of Lights at the dawn of the 21st century.




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