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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/stevenrea.