The sentimental coupling of a young race-car driver and script girl, both widowed, in "A Man and a Woman" won Claude Lelouch an Academy Award. But his nouveau-Western "Another Man, Another Chance" should garner the French director-cinematographer-screenwriter only a plaque commemorating The Big Snooze.
There's so little dramatic tension in the tale of widowed frontier veterinarian David Williams (James Caan) who sojourns romantically with the widown (Genevieve Bujold) of an emigrated French photographer that you'd be well advised to see it only (a) before dinner or (b) fortified with strong stimulants. Otherwise, you're liable to find your eyelids in perpetual droop - which actually happened on a recent outing to the Georgetown Theater, where two friends snored in their seats. Granted, it was the 10 p.m. show, but neither suffers from narcolepsy.
As Lelouch zooms in on Paris bread lines during the Franco-Prussian War, you may wonder if you've wandered into the wrong movie, for, as in his "Life Love Death," he gives the viewer little hint of what's going on. Soon, though, you meet Jeanne the baker's daughter (Bujold), who, tired of eating cake, throws over her officer-fiance for photographer Francis Leroy (Francis Huster) and adventure in the new world.
If you also begin to wonder how Bujold ends up with James Caan, keep in mind the words of the Polish fortuneteller: Her husband is destined to meet a violent end. And when he falls to the six-gun of an irate cowboy.Jeanne parks her daughter in the same boarding school Williams has chosen for his son following the the rape-murder of his wife (Jennifer Warren). On visiting day, Jeanne conveniently misses the coach and the headmistress asks Williams to trot her back to town.
If all this sounds like "A Man and a Woman, Out West," it is. Lelouch, a master of contrivance this time around, has borrowed the plot from himself.
In focusing on gentle souls who endure the hardships of frontier America, Lelouch avoids romanticizing history a la John Wayne on the range, offering a West that is dusty, dirty and perhaps the way it really was. But the impressionist-style camera-work on location in Arizona and California, full of pretty soft yellows and russets, contributes to the somnolent tempo. And background use of Beethoven's Fifth, which has been piped into such films as "A Clockwork Orange" as a grotesquerie, adds to the confusion.