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Nelly & Monsieur Arnaud Review

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When Nelly, a woman being just divorced, meets by chance M. Arnaud, a mature salesman just retired, begins a strange and special relationship between the two personalities.

★★★★★

Sautet and Béart’s last outing together was the coolly elegant Un Coeur En Hiver, a disturbing study of a love courted then cruelly spurned, incorporating that particular blend of subtlety and sophistication inherent with Gallic cinema. This reunion of the veteran director and his young muse is in much the same vein, with middle-class manners again under close scrutiny.
Put upon Nelly (Béart) walks out on her good-for-nothing husband with a string of debts and a broken heart. She’s then introduced to the wealthy Monsieur Arnaud (Serrault), a colonial judge turned entrepreneur, 40 years her senior. Instantly captivated, he offers to clear Nelly’s debts and engages her to type his memoirs as a gesture of goodwill. The pair’s dalliance during their working relationship straddles friendship and real intimacy before Nelly is pursued by Arnaud’s young publisher (Anglade).
The master voyeur, Sautet’s restrained technique carefully peels his characters to their cores as they face their own personal dramas. It’s reliant on actors of exceptional guile, but Béart’s performance here is mere dressing. Luckily, Serrault steps in to give an acting masterclass. With an impish dart of his dark eyes and wonderful timing he makes a credible suitor out of Arnaud’s ageing has-been. His wit makes for all the film’s best moments, while his inability to confess his true feelings is heart-wrenching. It’s his charisma that lifts this introspective enterprise above the dullness of yet another tale of repressed French passion.

Warm drama with some magnifque central turns.

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