© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
L to R: Sabine Azéma as Charlotte
and Pierre Arditi as Lionel in
Private Fears in Public Places (Coeurs)

Photo Credit: Canal Plus

In the 1980s, Alain Resnais reinvigorated his
then-slumping career with an adaptation of two
Alan Ayckbourn plays. For his latest work
COEURS, which in festival screenings has been
using the Ayckbourn title of
, Resnais has assembled a
cast of notable actors (many of whom he has
previously directed). Employing subtle
techniques that merge theater with cinema --
especially in the use of lighting -- Resnais has
crafted a magical yet minor masterpiece.

Clearly Ayckbourn subscribes to the theory that
there are six degrees of separation among
humans. Why else would he use six characters
in his piece? Each of them is tied in some way
to one another, knowingly or not. And each is
searching for a balm to the loneliness of
human existence.

The film opens with businesswoman Nicole
(the radiant Laura Morente) being shown an
apartment by realtor Thierry (André Dussollier).
The place has been subdivided and made
smaller and the opening scene serves as a
metaphor for the divisions that the characters
in the piece encounter in their lives. Nicole has
long been engaged to Dan (Lambert Wilson), a
disgraced career soldier now at loose ends. He
ostensibly is searching for a job, but prefers to
spend his days and nights drinking at a hotel
where Lionel (Pierre Arditti) tends bar. Lionel
lives with his invalid father (never seen but
voiced by Claude Rich).

He has hired Charlotte (Sabine Azéma) to care
for the elderly man during the evenings while
he is at work. By day, Charlotte, a devout
Christian, works with Thierry in the real estate
office. She spreads her beliefs by passing
around videos of her favorite religious
television show. It also turns out that the
videos also contain images of her acting in a
less than Christian fashion (think soft core
porn). Thierry is caught watching one of the
tapes by his much younger sister Gaëlle
(Isabelle Carré), who spends her evenings
waiting to meet men who have answered her
personal ad, with invariably disappointing
results. That is, until Dan, who has separated
from Nicole, shows up and the pair hit it off.

The film is a roundelay of encounters, all of
which are tinged with sadness and
disappointment. The actors are all exemplary
and Resnais' direction is spot on. The literal
translation of the French title is
one finds the characters on screen coping with
the effects -- good and bad -- of romance.
Resnais and his superb cast have poured their
hearts into this film adaptation and anyone
seeking mature entertainment should search
for this gem.

Rating:                B+
Running time:      125 mins.