Six characters, each with a story to tell, seek ties . . .

Posted: June 08, 2007

Private Fears in Public Places is an Alan Ayckbourne play, adapted for the screen by the legendary French director Alain Resnais. Rechristened Coeurs (Hearts) in Resnais' homeland, the U.S. release reclaims Ayckbourne's title. And it retains Ayckbourne's stagy structure - closed-in sets, fake snow sprinkling beyond prop windows, and actors gesticulating as if they were trolling a proscenium, not standing before the discerning eye of a camera lens.

It's hammy.

Never mind Resnais' revered filmography (Last Year at Marienbad; The War Is Over; Hiroshima, Mon Amour), this tale of six souls seeking connection in a bourgeoisie Paris is a dud.

A woman engaged to an out-of-work drunk looks for an apartment, confounded by the small spaces and arbitrary partitions. (Each character comes with his or her set of metaphoric walls.) The real estate agent assisting her searches for joy in his life and thinks he's found it when his office assistant, a devout Christian, presents him with a videotape of her favorite show. Following the program, some amateur soft-core porn appears on-screen; its star appears to be the assistant herself.

Then there's a hotel barkeep, with an ailing father back home. And there's the real estate agent's much younger sister - the pair share a place, but not much else. He eats prepared dinners in front of the TV, while she announces that she's going out with friends. Cut to a table in a noisy cafe: The woman sits alone, nursing tea, reading a paperback.

Resnais could have run the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" in a nonstop loop over the soundtrack. Paul McCartney's refrain, "All the lonely people, where did they all come from?" - it would have been perfect. Instead, composer Mark Snow provides lush, melodramatic instrumental strains.


Private Fears in Public Places *1/2 (out of four stars)

Directed by Alain Resnais, written by Jean-Michel Ribes, based on the play by Alan Ayckbourne, distributed by IFC Films. With Sabine Azéma, Lambert Wilson and Isabelle Carré. In French with subtitles.

Running time: 2 hours

Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (adult themes)

Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/stevenrea.

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