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Mélo (1986) Review: Fragile Desires!

André Dussollier as Marcel Blanc holds Sabine Azéma as Romaine Belcroix by the waist from behind, while Romaine looks back with a worried expression.

Mélo, one of Alain Resnais’ relatively lesser-known masterpieces, offers a sincere drama that presents a limitless portrait of human beings in a limited space. As the dose of romance increases, love, illness, and melancholy are intertwined in the film, where the space and dialogues of theatricality constantly nourish each other.

Theatricality and Intimacy

Adapted from Henri Bernstein’s play, Mélo stands out with Resnais’ theatrical style, which is independent of the director’s previously emphasized concepts of time and memory, and is close to romance, provocative production. It may seem like it’s not saying big words, but it is a sincere drama that presents a limitless portrait of human beings in a limited space.

This is a place where the space and dialogues of theatricality constantly nourish each other, occasionally with the curtain falling and rising again. The long speeches we saw at the opening were; It can be perceived as the affectionate approach of a middle-aged husband and wife, “Pierre (Pierre Belcroix) and Maniche (Sabine Azéma)” who are happy to welcome a friend, to their visiting single friend Marcel (André Dussollier). Starting with everyday conversations in a limited space and going all the way to intellectual discussions that involve playing Bach on the violin. There is a seriousness that hangs over them, but at the same time, they are also enveloped in a fragile intimacy. We approach everyone equally, without making Pierre and Maniche the main characters. In fact, Marcel’s story suddenly starts to become more visible.

When Marcel tells his story, the camera creates an illusion that we will suddenly go back in time and witness the past events firsthand. But it doesn’t happen. We have to settle for the story he’s telling us. Resnais slowly pans his camera to the “now” of the past story and the character, and we don’t feel disconnected from what’s being told. It doesn’t feel like our senses are left hanging. After the long and exhausting opening scene at the dinner table, a new and vibrant life begins.

Sabine Azéma as Romaine Belcroix looks away with her hand on her chin, while Pierre Arditi as Pierre Belcroix smokes his cigar beside her.

When we first see Maniche alone with Marcel, we understand that what she shared with Marcel was something she couldn’t share with Pierre. Music here becomes something experienced rather than just spoken about. It’s about a woman who keeps searching for sharing her art with the man she loves but can’t figure out how, and romance mixed with the slow-building tension. The details overlap with moments when Pierre becomes a supporting actor. Flirting without seeming to flirt, glances without appearing to look. All these emotions move individually in seemingly static locations. Then, it slowly turns into an intense, passionate, and desperate melancholy. As Pierre moves away, others come closer.

Intertwined Love, Illness and Melancholy

As the romance intensifies, love, illness, and melancholy intertwine. Maniche wanders like a hopeless and desperate lover, stumbling with her desire. Pierre slowly begins to disappear from the scene. Meanwhile, Maniche’s unfortunate confusion imprisons these three people, whom we initially watched with simplicity, in an unsolvable cycle. Although Christine (Fanny Ardant), who secretly loves Pierre, approaches with gentleness from the outside, there is no escape or solace for anyone. The events push everyone into an unknown void, line by line.

Although Mélo seems like a difficult film to get into, Sabine Azéma, Pierre Arditi, and André Dussollier’s acting is individually impressive and makes the story compelling. They carry the theatrical dialogues with great simplicity and enthusiasm. Although Resnais stretches out in limited spaces and closed environments, he does justice to creating cinematic staging and opens up areas that give Resnais’s touch to the film. The characters’ sometimes inadequate, sometimes provocative states shake the seemingly limited space a little more each time. Ultimately, Resnais captures a literary taste for the audience.

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Last modified: July 8, 2023