Published Aug 02, 2000I was shocked to discover that Andre Techine has been making films since 1969. I've always lumped him in with the younger French directors, based on the freshness and urgency of his films. In his latest film, "Alice and Martin" (great movie: uninspired title), his characters all move with unusual briskness, as if they're always late for some unspecified appointment, and they speak in clipped, staccato declaratives. In one scene Juliette Binoche cooks an egg and devours it in the space of less than a minute. They all live their lives caught up in a kind of shark-like perpetual motion that's fuelled not by ambition or impatience, but by the desire to erase or ignore the past.
Much like Techine's previous film, "Thieves," this is a dense psychological drama that parcels out information carefully, always complicating the characters' motivations just when you think you have them figured out. It begins with some snippets from Martin's childhood that establish his relationship with his unwed Spanish mother (Carmen Maura), and his stern, absentee father who has three legitimate sons by marriage, and who considers his bastard son to be an embarrassing mistake. The next time we see Martin (sensitively played by Alexis Loret), it's a decade later, and he's running like a bat out of hell away from his father's home. It's only much later in the film that we find out exactly what he was running from (although it's easy to guess), but in the meantime, he finds a safe haven by shacking up with his half-brother Benjamin (the rumpled, supremely likable Mathieu Amalric) who lives with a prickly, struggling violinist named Alice (Binoche).
Since my most vivid memories of Juliette Binoche are of her naive character in "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," I didn't realise what a tough-minded and substantial presence she can be. Her Alice is a tough nut to crack, but shy, inexperienced Martin manages to do just that. The romance that develops between them is based on equal parts dysfunction, lust, and need, and Techine takes you on an almost epic journey through the complications that arise out of their relationship. By the end of "Alice Et Martin," you'll be astounded at the vastness of the emotional terrain that's been covered. This film is always one step ahead of the audience and it's a jittery pleasure to keep up with it. The last line of dialogue is shear epiphany, and it's followed by a shock cut to black that left my mind reeling in its wake. The movie was over, but I stayed nailed to my seat long afterwards, marvelling at how the pieces had all come together with such grace.