The Great Love

The Great Love


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Why is it," asked a fellow audience member at the screening of this film I attended, "that so many French films feature middle aged men falling in love with much younger women?"

It's a fair point, but one on which writer/star Pierre Etaix, though amused, defended himself - for him, this is an exception. He chose the subject because he thinks it's a classic vaudeville theme, and also because of its simplicity - rather than telling a complex story, he wanted plenty of room for slapstick gags and generally inventive silliness. The result is a film that's a bit hit and miss but that, at its best, provokes uproarious laughter, and succeeds in charming throughout.

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Etaix himself plays another Pierre, married to Florence (Annie Fratellini), though he figures (perhaps naively) that he could have married one of numerous other women. Despite the salacious gossip of the elderly local women who watch his every move, he has enjoyed a largely happy marriage and a satisfactory, albeit not exactly stimulating, life. Then the arrival of a new secretary, 18 year old Agnes (Nicole Calfan), turns his world upside down. Consumed by a passion which he is convinced must be love, he indulges in increasingly absurd and charmingly innocent romantic fantasies, utterly distracted from his day to day life. Over time, he becomes convinced that the only way he can be happy is to consummate his love. But the dilemmas this presents him with are overwhelming.

It's a story we have indeed seen many times, not least in the films of Woody Allen, who has cited Etaix as a major influence. This contributes to a sense that the film is too slow in places, especially early on, though this might have been less of a problem for its original audience. Balancing out the problematic pacing is an engaging innocence and a well developed set of comic characters. Fratellini, in her strongest cinematic role, is superb as the unwittingly controlling Florence, who just might have a secret of her own. There's a strong supporting cast with sympathetic minor characters providing the best running jokes.

This is old fashioned comedy that won't be to everyone's tastes, but its playful absurdity and sheer good-naturedness make it a delightful example of its kind.

Reviewed on: 13 Nov 2010
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The arrival of a new secretary prompts a long-term married man to dream.
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Director: Pierre Étaix

Writer: Jean-Claude Carrière, Pierre Étaix

Starring: Pierre Étaix, Annie Fratellini, Nicole Calfan, Alain Janey, Ketty France, Louis Maiss, Jacqueline Rouillard, Renée Gardès, Billy Bourbon, Micha Bayard, Claude Massot, Jane Beretta, Magali Clément, Emile Coryn, Sylvie Delalande

Year: 1969

Runtime: 87 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France


French 2010

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