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[whitespace] 'Alice and Martin'
French Twisted: Alexis Loret and Juliette Binoche are conflicted lovers.

Tangle in Paris

A labyrinthine love affair complicates 'Alice and Martin'

By Nicole McEwan

JULIETTE BINOCHE has made a career out of playing serenely beautiful survivors, and with André Téchiné's Alice and Martin, the doe-eyed French beauty adds yet another steel magnolia to her melancholic résumé. Sadly, Téchiné's film isn't nearly as gracefully composed as its luminous star.

As the film opens, the camera lingers over a colorful mosaic. In a film about makeshift families seemingly assembled from spare parts, the image seems hopeful, until one considers that the pieces must first be broken before they can fit in. Later, as the film slides into a sort of pop-psychology Columbo episode, the visual cue bears a second interpretation--that of a puzzle, with a few too many pieces missing.

The bastard child of a businessman and a beautician, the 10-year-old Martin arrives at his father's manor in a state of shock. Abruptly ripped from his working-class roots, he seems unwilling to adapt and relegates himself to shadow status in a house already occupied by his stern father's three legitimate sons.

Ten years later, we see Martin (newcomer Alexis Loret) fleeing the manor at top speed. He's running, but from what? After living in the woods like Truffaut's wild child for a time, the scruffy yet handsome young man shows up at his half-brother's apartment in Paris. A struggling actor and a homosexual, Ben (Mathieu Amalric) is the official black sheep of the family. At Ben's apartment, Martin meets his half-brother's mostly platonic roommate, the cool-blooded Alice, a dedicated violinist. Annoyed by his unannounced arrival, she initially labels him "a hobo from another planet." Within days, however the household's duet becomes a convivial trio, bonded mostly by the struggle of surviving in the big city.

The silent and brooding type, Martin is quickly discovered at a cafe and becomes a model, a perfect vocation for someone whose inner workings remain a mystery to all who surround him. He begins following Alice obsessively and eventually declares his desire, abruptly announcing that she's "the only thing he's ever pursued." Inexplicably and with literally no motivation via the script, Alice (who's smart enough to know better) gives in to his advances.

They become a couple. Actually, they become each other's universe, a situation which leaves Ben out of the loop completely. Alice's career is put on hold while she tends to her increasingly neurotic--though highly successful--boyfriend. In Spain for a photo shoot, Alice reveals that she is pregnant, an announcement that sends Martin into a psychosomatic coma and the film into a Hitchcock-tinged psychodrama complete with the requisite clunky flashback and Freudian undertones.

Cursed with the dreaded Heathcliff fixation, Alice sets off on a mission to fix her broken lover. By meeting both his families, she hopes to gain insight into his strange behavior. What made Martin run away? Why is he so consumed by self-loathing? And above all, what kind of legacy will her child inherit?

Alice and Martin is neither a proper murder mystery nor a satisfying romance. Téchiné delivers a character-based film and fills the screen with talented actors, particularly Binoche, whose typically subtle performance carries the movie. Given the diffuse script, it must have been hard labor.

Alice and Martin (R; 120 min.) directed by André Téchiné, written by Olivier Assayas, Gilles Taurand and André Téchiné, photographed by Caroline Champetier and starring Juliette Binoche and Alexis Loret, opens Friday at in San Jose at Camera 3.

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From the September 21-27, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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