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March 05, 2019

Monsieur & Madame Adelman

Monsieur & Madame Adelman 2.jpg

Nicolas Bedos - 2017
Icarus Home Video Region 1 DVD

In one of the scenes taking place in the early years of their relationship, Victor and Sarah Adelman go to the movies. A very quick glance on the theater marquee indicates that they are seeing "a film by Woody Allen". No title is seen, but that isn't necessary. But there are a variety of connections to be made here, some similarities as well as differences. There is more here than the critical regard by the French for Allen's films.

Like many of Allen's films, Monsieur & Madame Adelman centers on a relationship between and a woman, as well as sense of identity in terms of being Jewish and as part of the general culture of the time. Unlike Allen's films, being Jewish is not something played down or the subject of stereotypical humor. There's also the occasional literary name-dropping in an Allen film, but it's featherweight compared to the discussions between the characters here. In a Hollywood film, even an independent production, if the character in question is suppose to be a writer, all that's expected is to have a scene with someone hunched over a keyboard tapping away. Some viewers may well be unprepared for a film where literature takes on some of the kind of importance some have for professional sports, whether it's debating who is worthy of the Prix Goncourt, or hoping one's daughter becomes the next Francoise Sagan.

The couple in question are a graduate student of literature and a struggling would-be author who meet in a dive one night in 1971. Sarah is attracted to Victor. She's a bit gawky, he's very drunk. Their one-night stand ends with Victor passing out in bed, while Sarah takes a red marker to Victor's recently rejected manuscript. They meet again by chance a few years later, the real beginning of their relationship. Victor meets Sarah's parents over dinner. Spotting a novel by Philip Roth, Victor is introduced to modern Jewish literature by Sarah's father, whose library includes Isaac Bashevis Singer and Saul Bellow. A different kind of literature is introduced to Victor which in turn inspires his writing. The Christian Victor decides he is actually Jewish and takes on his then fiancee's family name.

Bedos and Doria Tillier wrote the screenplay as well as taking the title roles. In keeping with the literary aspects of the story, the film plays with the concept of the unreliable narrator. Most of the film is of the couple from 1971 through Victor's death in 2016, as told by Sarah to a young man, a would-be biographer looking for a different angle on the life of Victor. The narrative is bookended by scenes of Victor's funeral. Some of the comedy comes from the discrepancy between what Sarah describes and what we see on the screen. As a counterpoint to the ups and downs of the marriage, we see glimpses of television news indicating the various changes in the French government. There are also questions of Victor's career as a best-selling author, with novels that are thinly disguised biography and autobiography.

Monsieur & Madame Adelman was Nicolas Bedos' feature directorial debut, following several years of writing and acting. The film was a nominee for Best First Feature for the 2018 Cesar Awards, the French equivalent to the Oscars.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at March 5, 2019 08:30 AM