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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Stavisky (1974)

The last few months in the life of a con man/swindler (Jean Paul Belmondo) with a mysterious past who has acquired and squandered a fortune. His influence has reached into powerful social and political circles and when he goes down, he's not going down alone. Based on the 1934 scandal known as the Stavisky Affair which lead to riots in the streets and the fall of the French government at the time, the film's prologue tells us that the film makers aren't trying to be historians and reserve the right to take creative liberties. In that case, it's a pity the director Alain Resnais and his screenwriter Jorge Semprun (Costa Gavras' Z) didn't do a roman a clef and call the film SEMYONOV or something. Resnais' Stavisky remains as mysterious to us at the film's closing as he was at the beginning though I suspect that was something Resnais intended. I'm not sure there's a way of whitewashing Stavisky anymore than if Scorsese made a film called MADOFF and tried to make Bernie Madoff a tragic figure. There's also a subplot involving Trotsky (Yves Peneau) in exile that seems awkwardly inserted. But where the film triumphs is in style over substance and this is one ravishing looking movie, impeccably shot by Sacha Vierny (BELLE DE JOUR). The seductive underscore is by Stephen Sondheim, one of his rare original film scores. With Charles Boyer (who steals the movie), Gerard Depardieu, Michael Lonsdale, Claude Rich, Francois Perier and Anny Duperey.

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