DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
DIARY OF A SEDUCER (Journal du séducteur, Le) (director/writer: Daniele Dubroux; cinematographer: Laurent Machuel; editor: Jean-Francois Naudon; cast: Chiara Mastroianni (Claire), Melvil Poupaud (Gregoire Moreau), Hubert Saint-Macary (Hubert Markus), Mathieu Amalric (Sebastien), Daniele Dubroux (Anne), Jean-Pierre Leaud (Hugo), Micheline Presle (Diane), Serge Merlin (scientist); Runtime: 95; Leisure Time Features; 1996-Fr.)

 
"The movie is very loosely adapted from Soren Kierkegaard's early treatise on beauty..."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The movie is very loosely adapted from Soren Kierkegaard's early treatise on beauty, infatuation and the power of intellectual persuasion. An old copy of the Danish philosopher's work is passed from person-to-person to act as a love potion, as it turns those who possess it into becoming irrational romantics.

The film is a romantic comedy, with the trappings for a detective story thrown in for good measure. Even murder somehow gets into the story. This comes about with the help of all the oddball characters who are involved in the romantic shenanigans part of the story. But the explicit sex is kept to the bare minimum; instead, the story makes use of the need to find romance as a form of irony. It points out the thin line that separates love from madness. The film is very brutal on psychoanalysts and their pet theories. It pretends to be supportive of philosophy and its intrinsic intellectual powers that society has very little value for, but the director does not move the film in that direction. Instead, he opts for light comedy.

Gregoire Moreau (Melvil Poupaud) is a philosophy student who looks a lot like how the young Greenwich Village Bob Dylan looked...as his diabolical aim is to score girls, and the Diary is the perfect prop for him to do this. We pick up the tale, when he lays his trap for Claire (Chiara Mastroianni), a college student, who is undergoing psychoanalysis. All the characters in this story have some problem with understanding who they are and what are the boundaries for their behavior. So, even if the story tends to be implausible, it still makes sense if viewed from the belief that the Diary actually has the power to intercede for love.

Claire, soon after reading the Diary, drops her virginal and sexually ambivalent suitor Sebastien (Mathieu Amalric). He, meanwhile, has somehow managed to move in with her and her single mother, Anne (Daniele), who is a doctor. The chemistry is much better between Sebastien and Anne a match that no one can possibly believe should be taking place, but is funny to watch develop as the opinionated and pushy Sebastien operates his inane charm on the sophisticated and attractive older woman until she nearly makes a complete fool of herself. He does this without having read the Diary but is working on his own diary, which Anne reads and is insulted but somewhat flattered by it. She reads in his diary the immaturity of his statements about her, of how he would like to conquer her since her daughter has rejected him.

Hugo (Jean-Pierre Leaud) seems to be reduced to playing small parts as weirdos in recent films. I'm thinking of his appearance in films like Irma Vep. Here, he is smashing in his role as the former professor of Gregoire who has gone mad after reading the Diary, waxing on at a party about his love for the stand-offish Diane (Micheline). She is the agoraphobic, former actress grandmother of Gregoire. At his party, which he invited thirty guests, he manages only to lure Claire and a late arrival and two musicians playing music from India. They all leave after seeing how bizarre Hugo looks when waving a gun, talking about suicide if he can't have Diane, and ranting like a lunatic.

The main focus of the story is about the developing relationship between the nice girl Claire and the stealth, soft-spoken Gregoire. Claire is dependent on her all-knowing shrink, Hubert (Hubert), for answers. Naturally she tells him about the Diary and Gregoire; she also tells him about the corpse she found in the refrigerator of Gregoire's apartment. The shrink reads the Diary and falls madly in love with Claire, losing hold of himself and endangering his marriage. This is in contrast to his previously superior rational couch-side manner he had when doing a therapy session. He is now in need of a shrink himself.

With all these zany characters and bizarre situations, the movie still was flat.  I wasn't taken with the main character, Gregoire; and, therefore, had little interest in his strange love affair and his fixation with magic. The story itself was thrown together as if it were a series of comedy skits. The film did have a good sense of tongue-in-cheek humor, keeping it lighthearted. But for a film about a book that a great philosopher wrote and for it not to be thoughtful, is in my opinion an outrage.

REVIEWED ON 2/21/99                          GRADE: C

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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