In high school French class our teacher insisted on giving us “French” names for us to use during our fifty minutes under her care. The names were meant to be the French-ized version of your name, but since “Annie” is pretty distinctly Irish, I was given the name Anouk. I wasn’t very happy about this. It was like my name, but not much. Instead of the happy smile you get automatically from “Annie”, it ended in a weird “ooooh-Ka”. To me it sounded like a punch in the nose.
Years later I learnt about the incredible Anouk Aimée and changed my mind a bit. I saw her first as Marcello Mastroianni’s long-suffering wife in Fellini’s 8 ½, and while I didn’t think much of her at the time, I became completely obsessed with the film and the rest of Fellini’s work. (Fellini is sort of the “gateway drug” of arthouse films, don’t you think? He’s odd yet accessible, funny yet sophisticated, and while his themes are generally dark at the core, you end up feeling sort of light and entertained at the end. At any rate, his pictures started me on all the other auteurs in turn…) As I read up on Fellini and 8 ½, I learnt that Il Maestro purposely made the glamorous Anouk Aimée exceptionally plain for her role in the film – even to the point of forcing her to trim her famously long eyelashes.
Wow. To be known for one’s eyelashes...now that’s seriously chic.
The first time I saw a Claude Lelouch film was about five years ago. My boyfriend at the time insisted we go see it because “it’s supposed to be really romantic…” Huh. Beautiful, yes. But so slow that I felt completely stoned the entire time. Does this a romance make? Let’s just say that my boyfriend and I broke up a few weeks later, but no, I don’t blame Claude Lelouch. Thankfully, I recently learnt that his early films were the true gems.
This weekend I finally saw Un Homme et Une Femme and I’m beginning to understand what the Lelouch fuss is all about. That, and I’m now head over heels for Anouk Aimée – in fact, I might just have to start calling myself Anouk once again. At least Lelouch knew better than to humiliate a beautiful woman by making her ugly: The wide mouth, the dimples, the cheekbones, the thick clownish brows that arch just so, the gigantic brown eyes, the light dusting of freckles, the absolutely perfect hair… I have straight brown hair too, yet I’d have to sell my soul to get the effortless perfection of Anouk Aimée’s messy-but-polished coiff in this movie.
The whole thing is this incredibly simple and beautiful little French love story, as only a French film can create - the kind that sort of sets the sterotype for every romantic French film that's ever been made. If I were to explain it, I'd say that it's in black-and-white - no, it's in color, that there's these two people who meet because of their childrens' school, it's a freezing wet winter, there's a lot of driving and beautiful seascapes and sunrises, sexy jazzy music, a lot of melancholy, two cute kids, and Anouk Aimée in a really fabulous coat.
Sigh. It kills me. Let’s just drive to the beach at Deauville to chase seagulls and watch the old man walk his dog.
“Between art and life, I’d choose life.”
Seriously. Enough already. But no, let’s cue the da-ba-dabada-dabada of the cute samba music, drive back to Paris, smoke cigarettes, and tell each other stories of how we’ve loved and lost.
Anouk Aimée in Un Homme et Une FemmeAimée’s simple chic is quintessentially French and is probably what created the whole French woman's mystique in the first place. Films like this show them to be an entirely different species of style. Her fur-trimmed coat, little Chanel 2-55 bag and kitten heels for Sunday pair perfectly with that insouciant smile hidden behind a shy little hand gesture. Aimée is also the master of the French woman’s shrug. Do I love him or do I not? I don’t know. But it’s so much easier to reflect upon the predicament when I can just sit on a bench in Paris and hide inside my fur collar to think it over.
Personally, love would indeed be simpler for me if I could be this perfectly groomed and well-dressed and untroubled and in Paris while I dealt with all of it. Perhaps I would have stayed with my boyfriend longer? Who is to say? It was a summer romance and according to Lelouch, winter is the key.
The filmmaker said that the winter’s bad weather was meant to be another character in the film. The loneliness of misty Deauville - a summer resort that is deserted in winter, the brisk winds off the North Sea, the white waves, the naked trees, the rains of Paris, the snow of the Alps… The cold was supposed to be so ever-present that you would feel the warmth of the love. Lelouch also said that this story could never have happened to him (although he wrote it,) because he’s “just not that loving…”
Or maybe he is the kind of man that chooses art instead of life?