Friday, March 07, 2014

Two English Girls

Based on the novel by Henri-Pierre Roche, Les Deux Anglaises et le Continent (Two English Girls) is the story of a love-triangle between a Frenchman and two English sisters in the course of twenty-years during the early 20th Century. Directed by Francois Truffaut and screenplay by Truffaut and Jean Grualt, the film is a very complex love story that explores a man and his relationship with two sisters. Starring Jean-Pierre Leaud, Kika Markham, Stacey Tendeter, and Sylvia Marriott. Les Deux Anglaises et le Continent is a ravishing and evocative film from Francois Truffaut.

The film is a simple love-triangle story involving a young Frenchman and two English sisters during the early 20th Century as it would be a relationship filled with anguish, confusion, and longing. Yet, there is a love that is undeniable as it is largely told by the trio as they would correspond through letters and all sorts of things as they ponder if they really love each other. Much of it is told from the perspective of Claude Roc (Jean-Pierre Leaud) who meets one of the sisters early on in Ann Brown (Kika Markham) during her trip to France. Smitten by her, he travels to her home in Wales where he meets her mother (Sylvia Marriott) and Ann’s younger sister Muriel (Stacey Tendeter). Claude not only falls for Muriel but he is also in love with Ann where his feelings for the two sisters would shift from one to the other in the course of 20 years. Especially as he would have a hard time juggling both of them while the sisters themselves try to Claude to fall for the other.

The film’s screenplay would feature Truffaut as an unseen narrator filling bits of exposition as well as unheard conversations and such to help move the story forward. Especially as Truffaut would incorporate voice-overs from the three principle characters to play into their anguish over this love triangle where Claude is in love with two sisters who are both similar in some respects but also very different. Ann is a very refined person who is very kind and not confrontational at times. Muriel is a more aggressive and moody young woman who suffers from blindness at times. The different personalities are probably reasons for Claude’s aloof attraction to both women where he would shift back and forth between the two for several years. Much of the film’s first half is set in Wales which plays to the innocence of the relationship.

Then a year-long separation between Claude and Muriel occur based on the suggestion of their respective mothers which would create problems where Claude finds himself in London not sure if he would see her. This would prompt Ann to see if Claude had been with other women only to for the two to have an affair of their own where there is a major conflict over whether to tell Muriel what is really happening or continue with this affair. Things would get more complicated as the often-demure Ann would start venturing into her own to find herself which would prompt to re-start his long-distance relationship with Muriel as this back-and-forth would happen for 20 years.

Truffaut’s direction is truly exquisite in not just the way he presents this love triangle set in the early 20th Century but also in the sense of restraint that it’s told. Notably as much of the film’s first half would be set in a French peninsula as Wales where it is a world that is free and natural. Truffaut would use a lot of wide shots but also some slow and gazing pans to display the beauty and the innocence of this love-triangle. The usage of close-ups would also have a feel that is entrancing where the actors talking at the camera to play into what they’re feeling and how the reader is seeing that person recite these letters. The film is also shot in other parts of France to play into the sense of the times as it also helps further the development of the characters.

The use of the closing iris and other stylistic shots do add a sense of energy to the film where it has an unconventional sense of pacing. Yet, it manages to help make the film not as long as it should be where Truffaut takes his time to not only develop the love triangle but also carefully develop Claude going from one sister to another through a series of small events. Even as the film’s third act would have Claude make some moves of his own to see what he can do to not just ensure his own happiness but the happiness of the sisters. Yet, it would be followed by things that would not only play into the sense of long he would have for those sisters but also the idea that the past can never be replicated. Overall, Truffaut creates a very sensitive yet rapturous film about a Frenchman who falls for two English sisters.

The cinematography of Nestor Almendros is truly a highlight of the film as his approach to interior and exterior lighting adds a sense of beauty to every image of the film while emphasizing on something that is very natural as opposed to going for filters and other stylistic shots. Almendros‘ work is just ravishing in every frame that he puts in along with the shots of the French peninsula location and the river home where Claude and Ann would have their affair. Editors Yann Dedet and Martine Barreque do excellent work with the editing where its usage of jump-cuts, dissolves, and fade-outs would have this air of style while playing to the film‘s unique approach to pacing. Production designer Michel de Broin does amazing work with the look of the country home the Brown sisters live in as well as the places that Claude lived and worked at along with the art studios he goes to.

Costume designer Gitt Magrini does wonderful work with the costumes from the clothes that Claude wears to the stylish dresses that the women wear that is completed by the lavish hair styles of the time that is created by Simone Knapp. The sound work of Rene Levert is terrific for the calmness of some of the locations as well as playing to the sounds of nature and parts of the cities that the characters encounter. The film’s music by Georges Delerue is just astounding for its lush and enchanting orchestral score that features some somber yet brooding string pieces to some majestic cuts to play into the sense of romance and longing as it’s one of Delerue’s best scores.

The film’s brilliant cast features some appearances from composer Georges Delerue as Claude’s business agent, Irene Tuc as an artist Claude meets, Mark Petersen as the Browns’ neighbor Mr. Flint, and David Markham as a palm reader the sisters meet later in the film. Other notable small roles include Sylvia Marriott as Ann and Muriel’s mother who is concerned about the way the love triangle is happening as well as Marie Mansart as Claude’s mother who also has her suspicions about the relationship. Philippe Leonard is terrific as an art publisher named Diurka whom Ann would fall for as he would later become a friend to Claude.

Stacey Tendeter is fantastic as the very moody and anguished Muriel as the younger of the two sisters who is stricken by blindness as she rarely goes anywhere as she tries to deal with Claude being away as well as her own sins. Kika Markham is amazing as Ann as this more prim and sophisticated woman who later finds herself as an artist as she tries to deal with her newfound sense of adventure while wanting to maintain her love for Claude. Finally, there’s Jean-Pierre Leaud in a remarkable performance as Claude as this young man who finds himself torn between two women whom he loves while being aloof over his situation. The three performances together are just fun to watch in not only for their love for each other but also for the fact that it’s a relationship that was very unconventional for its time.

Les Deux Anglaises et le Continent is a magnificent film from Francois Truffaut that features outstanding performances from Jean-Pierre Leaud, Kika Markham, and Stacey Tendeter. Armed with a sensational story, exquisite detail to the period, Georges Delerue’s rapturous score, and the enchanting cinematography of Nestor Almendros. The film is truly one of Truffaut’s finest films in the way it explores love and all of its complexities. In the end, Les Deux Anglaises et le Continent is a spectacular film from Francois Truffaut.

Francois Truffaut Films: The 400 Blows - Shoot the Piano Player - Jules & Jim - Antoine & Colette - The Soft Skin - Fahrenheit 451 - The Bride Wore Black - Stolen Kisses - Mississippi Mermaid - The Wild Child - Bed and Board - Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me - Day for Night - The Story of Adele H. - Small Change - The Man Who Loved Women - The Green Room - Love on the Run - The Last Metro - The Woman Next Door - Confidentially Yours

The Auteur #40: Francois Truffaut (Pt. 1) - (Pt. 2)

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