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‘The Accompanist’ (PG)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 11, 1994

Thanks to the sensational presence of newcomer Romane Bohringer, "The Accompanist" gets a powerful jolt it might not have deserved. As a young pianist in occupied Paris, she's a compelling uncut diamond, the sexiest presence on the French screen in years. With eyes darker than tar and mercurial features that switch from waiflike to elegantly haunted, she's interesting in everything she does. When she's on screen, everyone else dissolves into the background.

French director Claude Miller, who is best known for "Garde A Vue" and "The Little Thief," serves up a quintessential French-movie dish, including a troubled marriage in pristine surroundings, a haunted woman with excellent cheek bones (Elena Safonova) and the pursuit of art and passion -- all served on a bed of classical music. The flavor -- or better yet, the zest -- comes from Bohringer.

She plays Sophie, a young, destitute pianist hired to accompany Irene Brice (Safonova), an established classical singer who has continued to perform despite the Nazi presence. Irene is married to Charles (Richard Bohringer, Romane's real-life father), a wealthy businessman who has shady dealings with the Nazis but who also makes his pro-French sympathies clear.

Irene, who recognizes Sophie's musical abilities and sees in her a kindred, hang-tough spirit, adopts Sophie as a live-in servant, accompanist and musical consultant. Sophie, who instinctively slips bread rolls into her purse at banquets, and who is entranced with Irene, is only too happy to have this job.

Although Sophie gets to perform for huge, exultant audiences, she rapidly realizes the acclaim is solely for Irene. She develops love-hate feelings for her boss. She also discovers Irene is having a clandestine affair with good-looking Resistance fighter Jacques (Samuel LaBarthe).

Irene forces Sophie to participate in the intrigue, making her deliver love letters to Jacques, or dispatching her on bogus errands while she has secret trysts. Sophie -- whose obsession with Irene makes her unable to consummate affairs with her own string of suitors -- is torn between allegiance to a woman she admires (but who regularly attempts to deceive her) and to cuckold Charles, who treats Sophie well and is desperately in love with his wife. When Charles's political standing is in trouble (for speaking his mind once too often), the trio escapes to England on a Portuguese tuna boat. But with Jacques based in London, Charles's problems are far from over.

With strong performances from all (including Laurence Monteyrol's powerful singing voice for Sofonova), and amid all the Berlioz, Mozart and Massenet, it's easy to overlook the fact that, thematically, "The Accompanist" isn't fully developed. Narratively, there is something approaching a resolution. Miller shows he can coat even the greatest banalities in mother-of-pearl, but he doesn't bring things full circle.

It hardly matters: Romane Bohringer carries the film along on her own. As she stares dolefully from behind her piano at the singer she considers superior to everything, including herself, it's crystal clear to us who's really stealing the show.

THE ACCOMPANIST, in French with subtitles.

Copyright The Washington Post

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