Film Scouts Reviews

"On connaît la chanson (Same Old Song)"

by Karen Jaehne

This jaunty French boulevard farce is purported to be paying hommage to the English writer Dennis Potter, who liked to splice snatches of music and musical conventions into his dramas ("Pennies From Heaven"). That helps to explain why characters break out in song for no apparent reason, but the concept of a tribute simply does not justify the insertion of songs where perfectly reasonable - or even unreasonable - dialogue would suffice. The voices doing the singing are often mismatched, so that a lilting soprano appears to come out of the mouth of our stridently macho real estate agent, or a baritone beams forth from the endearingly mad young women in the story, and so forth and so on.

The very first image on the screen is a swastika, and we relive the horrible threats of the German occupation, when von Cholitz was ordered to destroy Paris. Twenty-four hours came and went (here in seconds), and the Arch de Triomphe was still standing. Voila - French persistence. Not to be confused with French Resistance, which may or may not have had anything to do with it. The real estate is what counts.

Meet Camille and Odile, as chirping and charming as any French women found in the old Sacha Guitry films. Camille, as played by Agnes Jaoui, who also wrote the story (and won 2 Cesars for her work from the French film community), is wistfully charming, as she deals with all the men who admire her and tries to write a thesis on The Yeoman of Palandru Lake in 1000 AD. This particular joke about obscure academic efforts is the source of several comic points; Jaoui knows how to get a lot of mileage out of a soupcon of absurdity.

Resnais directs these characters with the smooth assurance that obviously comes with 40 years of intellectual films carried along on the force of performance. The actual plot here revolves around real estate, a barely respectable enterprise anywhere in the world, a dilemma that knows no borders. Real estate agents are a ubiquitous evil. Even French ones, who claim to write radio plays and downplay their profession as merely for the money. (What else is a profession for?)

The most interesting character is Simon, who begins as an insensitive lug, then warms up when he falls in love with Camille, mooning over her but helpless, since his boss at the real estate firm is courting her. Meanwhile, Odile's friend Nicolas has come to Paris looking for a place, and Simon drags him through innumerable Paris flats, as it slowly becomes clear that he'd better seek a studio, as his wife is malingering in England. It's all quite saucy with occasional surreal moments, as we hear from the mouth of a previously rational figure a song presumably popular in France. (They have an odd taste in music; this must be the worst collection of pop, Euro-rock and specialty songs ever.)

The problem for us is that, contrary to the title, it's not the same old song - to us. We don't know these ditties. Even though someone has painstakingly translated the lyrics for us and found rhyme schemes to approximate the original, they may as well be Martian folk songs. One particular refrain struck me as too absurd to be a popular song; it must be a parody:

"Will our love become a diamond in the rust?

...I would rather die than turn to dust." Could this be a problem in translation?

When Jane Birkin arrives, speech takes over again - a welcome occurrence. But then she talks too long. The entire backstory of Nicolas pours forth in Birkin's elaborate monologue, then Jane leaves. What was that all about?

The great finale is a housewarming party in Odile's fabulous new apartment with an enviable view of Paris lit up by night. Now this apartment has been peddled to her by Camille's beau, but Simon knows that she's about to lose her view. A building project is going in across the street, eclipsing the reason she bought the place. A wail goes up like a Greek tragedy.

Everybody knows the feeling of a real estate swindle, a much more affecting phenomenon in life than a familiar song. So if any song is the same, it's the real estate agent hawking the Brooklyn Bridge, or in Paris, I suppose, it's, "Hey, have I got a Tower for you...."

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