Stage drama often transfers to the screen with all the grace of Bernard Manning in a tutu, so veteran New Wave director Alain Resnais has pre-empted complaint by unashamedly shooting these twin movies entirely in a Paris studio, complete with silent-movie-type music and cartoon captions. Thankfully, the addictive French couplet departs from the source material - a series of eight plays by Alan Ayckbourn - in a number of ways, namely that they last a good seven days less and two actors play all the parts.
Set in a twee Yorkshire village populated by schooly types who play golf, eat in the garden and go to church a lot, both films yank us to and fro across five years on a "Hey, what if he didn't say that but said this instead?" basis. In Smoking, headmaster's wife Celia Teasdale picks up a packet of Players and lights up; in No Smoking, she doesn't succumb, sparking off a different chain of events. The idea being that hopes of happiness can be ruined by chance encounters, thoughts left unsaid or generally putting your foot in it.
No Smoking is the more consistently dramatic and engaging of the two, though it's still the sort of word-heavy stuff which will either have audiences fumbling for their roll-ups or begging for a mini-series. What makes them both so watchable, however, is that Azema and Arditi perform with such expressive versatility that you forget they're the only actors involved.