The Lovers: Criterion Collection
May 16, 2008
When Louis Malle’s film The Lovers (1958) debuted at the Venice Film Festival, it caused outrage in Catholic Italy. Two months later, it was released in France and shocked and angered Conservative audiences with its sexual frankness. However, the film helped cement the reputations of Malle and his leading lady, Jeanne Moreau. They had worked well together before in Elevator to the Gallows (1957). Things have come a long way since 1958 so it’s a little hard to understand how a film depicting a woman’s sexual pleasure in an honest and thoughtful way caused such a stir but many forget how chaste the world was back then.
Set in the upper crust of society, Jeanne Tournier (Moreau) is the wife of a busy newspaperman named Henri (Cuny). To alleviate the boredom, she visits her best friend Maggy (Magre) who lives in Paris. It is during these visits that she meets and starts an affair with Raoul (Villalonga), a polo player. There is noticeable tension between Jeanne and Henri as he resents her spending so much time in Paris with Maggy and yet before they can finish their conversation, he gets a call to go back to the office, leaving his wife alone again.
Jeanne has plenty of nice clothes and jewelry but she wants to feel loved and physically close to someone. She even visits her husband at work on a whim but he is more annoyed by her surprise appearance than happy and this fuels her visits to Paris which become more frequent. Jeanne is not really sure how she feels about Raoul but at least he knows how to show her a good time and she has fun with him at an amusement park with other stylishly dressed couples after a swanky meal. When her car breaks down one day, she meets a helpful motorist named Bernard (Bory) who is an archaeologist. He has no problem identifying the pretentiousness of Henry, Raoul, and their world and this is what draws Jeanne to him.
The ever-elegant Jeanne Moreau delivers a strong performance giving the bored wife stereotype depth and complexity. What she wants is simple enough: to be loved but no one around her seems capable of it. She feels trapped in a marriage to a man she does not love and part of a society that is a snooty facade. Moreau shows the glimmers of personal expression that are dying to be let loose within her character.
While The Lovers may not be explicit by today’s standards, it is still a very sensual film and this is due in large part to Moreau who exudes passion that is kept in check for most of the film until Bernard brings it out in her and the film, like her, comes truly alive.
There is a collection of “Interviews” with Louis Malle including excerpts from 1963 and 1994 interviews. he talks about the success of The Lovers as an erotic film and not shying away from that. He believes that its greatest virtue is its honesty. In the 1994 interview, he talks about the genesis of the film and reflects on its legacy. There are excerpts from interviews with Jeanne Moreau in 1958 and 1972. She talks about the film’s scandalous reputation and defends its artistic merit. She talks about how she prepared for the film. There is an interview with Jose Luis de Villalonga. We see him playing polo in preparation for The Lovers. He talks about his background as a journalist. Finally, there is an interview with Louise de Vilmorin. She worked on the dialogue with Malle. She was friends with Moreau and did the film as a favour to her.
“U.S. Release” examines how the film was marketed in the United States with an emphasis on its scandalous reputation in Europe. Also included is a collection of lobby cards and newspaper ads.