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On connait la Chanson

Director: Alain Resnais


This delightful new film has given the now 75-Year-old Alain Resnais one of his biggest hits in France (over 2.6 million spectators) and scooped a slew of Cesars (the French equivalent of the Oscar), including one for best film. Dedicated to the late Dennis Potter, On Connait la Chanson borrows from the great British television dramatist (Pennies from Heaven, The Singing Detective) the device of having characters burst into song by lip-synching to famous recordings. As with Potter, Resnais uses this audacious ploy not just to raise laughs but also to reveal the emotional longings at work beneath his characters’ social facades. The result is a lighter version of Mon Oncle d’Amerique, with the songs performing a similar function to the use of movie clips in the earlier film, whose characters identified with famous stars of French cinema.
The new film also continues Resnais’s collaboration with Agnes Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri, who wrote Un air de famille (filmed by Cedric Klapisch) and adapted Alan Ayckbourn’s Intimate Exchanges as Smoking, No smoking for Resnais. On Connait la chanson is more successful than the highly artificial experiments that were Smoking, No Smoking. There remains a strong air of theatrical artifice, but the director seems much more comfortable with the French settings and characters on display here.
As with Un air de famille, Jaoui and Bacri’s script for On Connait la chanson is essentially a comic melodrama about a group of middle-class Parisians with family or professional ties, all of whom suffer a sense of disappointment as they struggle with careers and relationships. Resnais handles the materials with a deftness and lightness of touch that turns the film into a playful comedy and effortlessly captures the fascination of popular songs as manifestations of our dreams and desires. A superb cast and Resnais’s characteristically unshowy technical skill make this the director’s most accessible and entertaining film. Those who still associate Resnais with difficult art movies should find On Connait la chanson a very pleasant surprise.

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