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November 28, 2005

La Parfum d'Yvonne

Patrice Leconte - 1994
Second Sight PAL Region 0 DVD

Why was a movie this good not given theatrical distribution in the U.S.? Made after The Hairdresser's Husband and before Ridicule, La Parfum d'Yvonne stands with the delirious Girl on the Bridge as one of Leconte's best films. Those familiar with Leconte's other films would not be surprised by the quality of this film. What did surprise me is how this film is also an example of life following art.

Like several of Leconte's films, the narrative is initiated on a chance meeting. Victor and Yvonne "meet cute" when Yvonne's huge Great Dane falls asleep at Victor's feet in a hotel lobby. The film contrasts Victor and Yvonne's l'amour fou during the summer of 1958, with scenes of Victor looking back while in the same Swiss town during the winter of 1961. Her film debut about to be released, Yvonne states to Victor that she is not a dedicated actress. Similarly, the beautiful actress who portrayed Yvonne, Sandra Majani, has not appeared in any other film.

While this film is peripherally about movies, Leconte has two key scenes that take their cues from Hollywood. While not a direct lift from Funny Face, there is a scene of a fashion show involving girls, dogs and cars with a lush color palette that recalls Stanley Donen. Totally breathtaking is Leconte's variation on the most famous image from Billy Wilder's Seven Year Itch. Yvonne is seen standing at the railing of a boat wearing a simple white dress. She deftly slips off her white panties to give as a remembrance gift to Victor. Leconte places the camera at a discrete angle while the wind billows in and under the dress.

I am baffled that Leconte is unappreciated in his own country and not considered an auteur. While avoiding the obvious repetitions of someone like Woody Allen, Leconte's films are frequently about chance meetings that evolve into relationships, and love affairs based on impulsiveness. Frequently Leconte's characters are marked by self-destructive tendencies, whether social, physical, or both. For Leconte, being estranged from mainstream society can sometimes be a survival tactic one chooses for oneself. In an indirect way, Leconte has created a narrative that recalls the scene in Citizen Kane where the character of the aging Mr. Bernstein recalls a girl he saw only once, but never forgot. If La Parfum d'Yvonne doesn't conclude with the optimism of Girl on the Bridge, Leconte ends this film with the acknowledgement that love can be ephemeral, and that the person we may be in love with may only remain as a memory or image.

Posted by peter at November 28, 2005 02:48 PM


Oh rats, another hard-to-find movie I would love to see. The title alone makes it a must for me since I did a whole series about perfume at the movies. (And I liked Ridicule, too.) Plus you link the narrative to my favorite line from Citizen Kane: "I only saw her for one second. She didn't see me at all, but I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since that I haven't thought of that girl."

It is a mystery why some foreign directors get followings & wide distribution and others do not, but often the guys with more delicate sensibilities don't seem to do as well as the more he-man directors.

Posted by: Campaspe at November 29, 2005 08:46 PM

You may want to check the specs on your DVD player. Some will play PAL discs if they are Region 0 or Region Free such as my main DVD player which is totally street legal. The "parfum" in the title may not necessarily be purfume but could be a scent (of a woman, as it were).

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at November 29, 2005 09:52 PM