It has been said that if you want action films, look no further than Asian and American cinema; and no one makes a mystery or a satire like the British.The same can be said about the French when it comes to love stories, and while our Seine-strutting amis can also whip up slapstick comedies like few can (think Louis De Funes donning a beard, black hat, and impersonating a rabbi), they rarely fail to deliver captivating examples of both of these beloved genres.
Patrice Leconte, best known to American audiences for Monsieur Hire (1989) and The Hairdresser’s Husband (1990), gives us The Perfume of Yvonne (1994), now available on DVD from Severin Films.Based on the 1975 novel Villa Triste by Patrick Modiano, the film introduces us to Victor Chmara (Hippolyte Girardot of Manon of the Spring among many others), who is recalling the events that transpired in his life during the summer of 1958 in Geneva.Casually avoiding taking up the cause in the Algerian War, he stops in his tracks while sitting in the lobby of his hotel when his eye catches Yvonne (former model Sandra Majani) for the first time.She is an actress and a vision to behold.Her under-confident manner is exuded by her slight lack of poise while sitting with her enormous dog, Oswald.She is also accompanied by her friend Dr. Rene Meinthe, played with exuberance and flamboyance by Jean-Pierre Marielle whom audiences will recall as Gianni Arrosio in Dario Argento’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet.After much conversation Yvonne and Victor enter into a relationship that quickly becomes sexual in nature.Leconte’s camera makes the ever so slight caress of Yvonne’s knee (a nice nod to Eric Rohmer), her back, her breast, or bare bottom intensely erotic.Underneath it all, Yvonne possesses an air of innocent hesitation, which I cannot discern to be attributed to Majani’s lack of experience as an actress, or if it is her interpretation of Yvonne.Majani she also appeared in Alberto Express (1990), Cold Moon (1991), and Leconte’s Tango (1993) under the name of Sandra Extercatte, so Yvonne is not her first film.
As time goes by, Victor somehow appears to feel that he is a stranger in Yvonne’s land, and suddenly suggests that they get married and move to America.This is a move that puzzles Yvonne, and Rene reminds Victor to keep an eye on her.The ending is intimated at from the very beginning, and when we are faced with it, we nod our heads in understanding.
One of the highlights of living near New York City is the ability to go see great movies at the independent and revival theaters (Walter Reade, Waverly, Film Forum, Cinema Village, etc), something that, beginning in the 1990’s, started to decline due to the availability of home video.The Thalia Soho on Vandam Street, Theater 80 on St. Mark’s Place, the Festival and the Biograph both on 57th, the 8th Street Playhouse, etc., all closed within several years of each other.It has become more difficult to see foreign films in New York.So, DVD has become a wonderful way to catch up with films that most of us would otherwise not see.
Severin’s transfer of the anamorphically-enhanced 2.35:1 frame is very good.The NTSC Region 1 DVD-5 is single-sided and single-layered.With the exception of the film’s opening few moments, the image is free of speckles and dirt, which is a welcome relief for a film shot roughly fifteen years ago.Audio is presented in the film's original French language with optional English subtitles which are white and very easy to read.The cinematography is a joy to watch, and the music, though slightly sad, is strangely relaxing, and comes through very nicely and clearly.
The DVD has only one extra feature on it which consists of an on-camera interview titled “Leconte on Leconte” with the film's director. This is Part 2, and Part 1 can be seen on Severin’s DVD release of The Hairdresser’s Husband.This interview runs approximately 18 minutes in length where Leconte talks about his later films.
The film makes a wonderful double feature with Claude Sautet’s Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud (1995) with the equally luminescent Emmanuelle Béart on a quiet summer evening.