Wednesday, 16 July 2014

A film review: "Le milieu du monde" [Switzerland, France 1974]

With his romantic drama "Le milieu du monde" [Eng. Title: The Middle of the World], Alain Tanner signals a marked shift in the style and content of his film-making, one that'll also usher-in the most productive and creative phase of his career, featuring cinematic gems such as Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000, Light Years Away, In the White City, and A Flame in My Heart, among many others.

Olimpia Carlisi in "Le milieu du monde". Olimpia Carlisi and Philippe Léotard in "Le milieu du monde".
Olimpia Carlisi and Philippe Léotard in "Le milieu du monde". Olimpia Carlisi and Philippe Léotard in "Le milieu du monde".

Set in an idyllic but simple Swiss village, Tanner's film examines the intense but short-lived life of a romantic love affair - between married businessman Paul (Philippe Léotard) and Adriana (Olimpia Carlisi) - a recently arrived Venetian widow who works as a waitress at the local railway café. The film is presented like a video diary with a straightforward narrative, and uses the Swiss landscape as its backdrop.

Paul has everything going for him - he's successful, charming, and has just been chosen as an electoral candidate to represent a conservative party. He falls for Adriana from the moment he sets eyes on her, and wastes little time in asking her out on a date that she too will accept. After a few dates, he will profess his love for her, and claim that he is now at the centre of the world.

Adriana appreciates his affections, but is nevertheless also happy on her own - about herself, her job, and also the modest room that she lives in, while Paul tries to persuade her into quitting her 'crummy' job, and move in with him into a more luxurious apartment. Paul brazenly embarks upon the affair despite remaining in public gaze during his electioneering - it's as if he wants his affair to be known to everyone.

The party bosses aren't too happy when they find out about his affair, and even his close childhood friends take a wager on him loosing in elections. Paul indeed looses - perhaps he wanted it this way all along, so that he could regain his privacy and divorce his wife without the press kicking too much of fuss. He asks Adriana to accompany him in his globe-trotting plans, assuming that it is something she too would enjoy - but she turns down his offer.

There in lies Paul's problem - the business-like manner in which he approaches relationships, renders him incapable of truly getting to know the woman that he thinks he's in love with. He readily admits seeing himself at the centre of the world (hence the film's title) around whom others interact, and is consequently at odds with Adriana in one crucial respect - while Paul talks a lot and says very little, Adriana is verbal economy personified, but what little she does say is as insightful as it is telling. Paul might have nonchalantly dismissed and changed the topic after hearing Adriana say, "If a man sees a woman naked, he thinks he knows her already - and starts defining her so and so. That's why I want this room to be dark", but her words succinctly points out why their relationship will also fail. Adriana may seem just as unfathomable to the viewer as the director, but that doesn't stop us from being drawn to her enigmatic character.


A scene from Alain Tanner's "Le milieu du monde" A scene from Alain Tanner's "Le milieu du monde"

The fascinating character study is set against the desolate beauty and magnificence of the Swiss landscape, frequently juxtaposed with the mood and state of the couple's relationship. Some of cinematographer and Tanner-regular Renato Berta's stunning compositions - shot in aesthetically pleasing full-frame, impart an abstract, 'architectural' quality to scenes that would've easily won the approval of an Antonioni or Angelopoulos. Ms. Carlisi was nominated for BAFTA for her magnetic performance in the film, but Berta too ought to have been in the list for his evocative cinematography. Alain Tanner, of course, is in fine form in this masterfully put-together drama. I, for one, could sit and watch gems like these all day long - Highly Recommended Viewing..!


Amazon 2-Disc DVD Link [PAL]
As with most Tanner films, this DVD too is difficult to get hold of, and it is about time that this changes. For the moment, I add a title to my wishlist and wait for an alert mail when they become available. The DVD is otherwise immaculately restored with rich colours, whilst retaining their grain texture. The other disc contains another of Tanner's classics - Jonas qui aura 25 ans en l'an 2000.


The Nudity: Olimpia Carlisi
The classy Italian actress appears nude or partially nude in a handful of scenes that are just as beautiful as they're tasteful, and as a bonus, her Italian-accented French is charming even for a foreigner like me. Most of the nude scenes happen when her character is shown in the comfort of her own room, whether alone or with her lover. There's just one scene when she's nude while not in her preferred surroundings - in a room at a tourists' hotel - and she refuses to sleep in the bed or have sex with Paul there.

Olimpia Carlisi nude in Alain Tanner's "Le milieu du monde" (1974)


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