Clair De Demme -- At the Outer Circle.
"You're drunk with despair," the heroine of "Clair de Femme" says in a correct analysis of its hero.
So, for that matter, is she.
So is everyone they meet, including an aged poodle and a variety of incidental characters, including all the bartenders and taxi drivers. The movie is nothing but one long drunken orgy of despair.
What have these people got to be in despair about?
Well, as anybody knows who follows what is considered to be the deeper end of the popular culture, it doesn't take much. Feeling that life is meaningless is sufficient excuse, and wondering if fame, riches and love are all life has to offer is another.
Even our comedies, such as "10," take that for granted; and as for our tragedies, the epitome, but by no means the exception, must be the scene in "Mutual Enemies" in which a man hires five prostitutes to attend him so that he can loll in bed feeling glum.
In "Clair de Femme," the leading characters, played by Yves Montand and Romy Schneider, are eventually given sufficient reasons for feeling bad. Although they at first seem to be suffering only from suffering -- which seems understandable, since there's a lot of that going around -- we finally find out, in an unnecessarily roundabout way, that the formidable forces of Death and Disease have attacked their loved ones. Surely this is a legitimate reason for despair, which could fell even the more resilient characters these actors have played in previous films.
But there are no characters in this film a part from Despair.
The people have been cut down by it f rom the minute we first see them, and a bit of feeble rallying in response to each other's ministrations is only fleeting. Montand, who looks sleepy even when he is playing a jolly role, is comatose in this film. Schneider, whose face gets more appealing every year as she seems to scrub it more vigorously, has turned lackluster, showing no sign of energy or will to live.
The minor characters are, in contrast, engaged in complicated antics. There is a dapper animal trainer with a peculiar relationship to his pet; the pet itself, as well as the man's animal professional associates, all in various stages of droopiness; a Russian emigre who gives strange entertainments that fail to entertain her guests; the guests, who go desperately about giving out invitations to strangers to other parties, including embassy functions, without success; and some understandably disgruntled bystanders. However, the efforts of these people only net them despair in the end, so they needn't have bothered.
One man has been reduced, by despair to talking gibberish, but the difference between his comments and the murmurs of those in more or less sane depression is slight. A deliberate attempt at being bizarre has turned all conversation, as well as action, if one can give that term to such half-hearted twitches, to meaninglessness.
The effect is about the same as watching a lot of people who are drunk from any other cause -- not much fun, and not very instructive, either.