Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud (1995)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Psychological Drama, Romantic Drama  |   Release Date - Jun 21, 1996 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 102 min.  |   Countries - Germany, France, Italy  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Mike Cummings

Will 25-year-old Nelly and 68-year-old Monsieur Arnaud openly declare their love for each other? Director Claude Sautet tantalizes the audience with that question in this 1995 film about restrained love struggling to escape its bonds. Nelly (Emmanuelle Béart) is a jill-of-all-trades seeking work to support herself and her ne'er-do-well husband, Jerôme (Charles Berling). She is intelligent, beautiful, and quietly self-confident. Nelly meets Arnaud, a wealthy former judge and businessman, who hires her to transcribe and help edit his memoirs. At his apartment, she types, he talks -- about himself, about his children, about his estranged wife. Then he expects her to talk about her life. In time, they grow attached to each other. Is it love? Deftly and subtly, director Sautet explores each character to find out. Every look, every gesture, every word they speak has meaning. In between virgules, the commas that punctuate Arnaud's life story, Sautet roots out Arnaud's past: his career as a judge, his relationship with his estranged wife, the source of his wealth, and the mysterious visitor who knocks at his door and asks for money. And then he roots out Nelly's present: her financial troubles, her failing marriage, her impending divorce, her brief affair with Arnaud's publisher. Made in Paris, the film shows the audience just enough of the elegant cafés, the upscale shops, and the attractive people to give the city a glossy veneer. But beneath that veneer there is tension -- as with Nelly and Arnaud. Described by French magazines as the most beautiful actress in France, Béart certainly has no trouble convincing viewers that an elderly gentleman of wealth and power would be interested in her. And Serrault -- courtly, worldly wise, protective of his young employee, even fatherly -- has no trouble convincing viewers why Nelly would be interested in him. But will he mistake her motives? Will she mistake his? It may be going too far to call this film a psychological thriller, but it certainly has the feel and look of one. Well acted, well directed, Nelly & Monsieur Arnaud is like a fine aged wine. It gives you subtle taste and a small afterglow that lets you sit and wonder and think.