Thursday, March 29, 2012

Love in the Afternoon (1957)

Billy Wilder's Love in the Afternoon begins by immediately informing the viewer where we are: Paris, France. The camera pans out on a photo montage of the city, until we can view the actual city surrounding it. A French voice over, narrated by one of the film's main characters, Maurice Chevalier, tells us that Paris is not unlike any other major city in the world, except for two things, the first being that people eat better, and the second being that people make love -- not better -- but more often. Then, the film shows humorous shots of men and women kissing each other in different situations throughout the city, all in public.

No international city may be romanticized in film more than Paris. If it is the setting of the film, then you can almost guarantee that the movie will revolve around a love angle, and Love in the Afternoon is no exception. Billy Wilder, as usual, wrote, directed and produced the film. He was assisted in the screenplay by one of his common writing partners, I.A.L. Diamond, and the film is based off a short story by a French author named Claude Anet.

We meet Claude Chavasse, a private investigator portrayed by Chevalier, who is currently on the job, surveying an individual through binoculars from a rooftop, at the request of one of his clients. There is no better private eye in the city, Chavasse emphasizes throughout the film, and we quickly learn that he is smart and diligent, evidenced by the fact that he keeps all his previous records stowed away carefully in his drawers. However, he must keep a close eye not only on his subjects, but on his daughter, Ariane, played by Audrey Hepburn, who is ever so curious, and fascinated by her father's line of work.

She is young, and is spoiled by her father, who shelters her and tries his hardest to keep her separated from his work. But the harder he tries, the more curious she becomes. She's a musician, and is seen throughout the movie carrying around a large cello -- which is about twice her petite size -- but when she's not playing, she occupies her time by eavesdropping on her father's business conversations.

But the key is not to take everything too seriously; the mood and ambiance of Love in the Afternoon is light and airy. The slow, upbeat music that accompanies the film is almost meant to intoxicate you. The situations that arise in the film are comedic gold, thanks in large part to a witty and humorous script by Wilder and Diamond.

For instance, the first humorous situation happens when Chavasse reports his findings to "Monsieur X," (John McGiver) who hired him to find out whether his wife is cheating on him, which he suspects. After careful surveillance, Chavasse comes to the conclusion that she is indeed cheating on him with a rich American playboy named Frank Flanagan, portrayed by Gary Cooper. Upon informing Monsieur X of the news, he pulls out a gun, and says he is going to kill Flanagan. Chavasse, after an uninspired attempt to convince him otherwise, simply asks for his payment upfront, for if Monsieur X commits the deed, he would be in no position to make any transactions.

Gary Cooper and Audrey Hepburn in Love in the Afternoon.
Ariane, however, overhears the entire scheme, and beats Monsieur X to the hotel to give Flanagan a heads up. After very quick planning, the unfaithful wife departs from the building via the balcony, while Ariane poses as Flanagan's mistress. When Monsieur X breaks into the hotel room, gun in hand, he discovers that it is not indeed his wife, and that Chavasse must have gotten his information wrong.

We quickly discover that Flanagan is a huge womanizer, who travels from city to city on business meeting mistresses along the way. He is unmarried, and tells Ariane, "I think people should always behave as though they were between planes." He doesn't believe in love, and puts it poetically when he says, "He who loves and runs away, lives to love another day." Though Ariane may pretend that she's fine with it, the truth is, and everyone knows it, she's in love for the first time in her life.

The lightness of the film may be distorted somewhat by the drastic age difference between Hepburn and Cooper. Though their character's ages are never specified in the film, the two actors were 28 years apart when the film was made -- 28 and 56, respectively. But Wilder handles it delicately and tastefully, never showing much more in terms of flirtation between the two other than a romantic dance or an innocent kiss on the lips. The viewer is left to insinuate the rest. The subject arises once in the film, when Ariane states her distaste for young men, saying, "Actually I don't much care for young men. Never did. I find them conceited and clumsy, and very unimaginative." This is bad news for Ariane's friend and band partner, Michel (Von Doude), who is in love with Ariane, and though he may be a more acceptable beau age-wise, Ariane is oblivious to it.

While he's in Paris, Ariane only visits him in the afternoon, when she sneaks off following her band practice, so not to arouse suspicious from her protective father. While Flanagan does indeed fancy Ariane, he continually states that it is nothing serious, and Ariane combats his lack of commitment by pretending that she is also a heartbreaker, courting man after man, and inventing elaborate stories of these alleged men to make it seem more believable. In fact, Ariane doesn't even divulge her true name to Flanagan, who eventually continues on his travels, only to return a year later on business, but also to resume his courtship with Ariane.

The film, like most features around this time, handles women in a  misogynistic manner, almost like objects, but that notion is used mostly as a vehicle to convey the overlying messages of requited love and mutual respect. Cooper in his ripe age plays the part convincingly enough, more with his eloquence than anything else. Hepburn, meanwhile, is a doll, soft-spoken and graceful, and was no doubt in peak physical form when this movie was made.

The humor culminates when Flanagan hires Chavasse to investigate Ariane's true identity, and as a result, hires him to investigate his own daughter. But the film, age difference aside, is about experiencing your first love, and realizing the importance of it when you are the recipient. Though Ariane and Flanagan both enjoy each other's company, they are polar opposites in their ideas of love. Flanagan is just living "between planes," while Ariane is head-over-heels, hopelessly in love. Again, despite the noticeable age difference, there is indeed a nice chemistry between Hepburn and Cooper, making the film that much more enjoyable. Indeed, there are much worse ways to spend an afternoon.

~ Review by Ddubbs

No comments:

Post a Comment