'Fears': Moving Indirection

Friday, June 29, 2007

"Private Fears in Public Places" takes such poetic measure of the abject loneliness of humankind, we walk away moved -- even occasionally amused -- rather than depressed. What reaches us, most of all, are the hidden, unmet longings that keep the film's Parisian characters from finding true happiness. Rather than offer conventional resolutions, which in many movies seem designed to satisfy the audience more than the characters, 85-year-old French director Alain Resnais involves us in the characters' hopeless, sometimes comedic indirection.

Adapted from an Alan Ayckbourn play, the French film is a subtle comedy of manners, about six people looking for love, that examines the passing ironies of life, or these people's lives in particular, as they tackle their emotional problems. As with so many of Resnais's films -- an extraordinary 60-year canon that includes 1961's "Last Year at Marienbad" and 1977's "Providence" -- the movie unfolds with a mysterious mastery. Even when we don't understand the director's specific purposes, we are stirred by his gorgeous images, stirring mise-en-scène (Paris seems to be a reddish, glowing series of Hollywood-style soundstages) and the note-perfect performances of Resnais's cast, many of whom are recurring presences in his film, including André Dussollier, Pierre Arditi and Sabine Azéma.

-- Desson Thomson

Private Fears in Public Places Unrated, 120 minutes Contains sexual themes and profanity. In French with subtitles. At the Avalon.

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