Catherine Deneuve is a newly released convict in "A Second Chance." $1Only the belated appearance of Anouk Aimee in the role of her old cellmate prevents Deneuve from emerging as the most preposterous ex-con in movie history. These women leave the slammer looking so gorgeous that a prison term would probably become fashion law if a significant number of moviegoers confused "A Second Chance" with reality.
A 5-year-old Claude Lelouch doodle, "A Second Chance" was plucked off an import back shelf to plug a booking gap at the K-B Fine Arts. The original title was closer to "If I Had It to Do All Over Again," and the dithering scenario is a feminized reprise of the situation Lelouch toyed with in the 1973 "Happy New Year," where Lino Ventura starred as a parolee unsure of his status upon re-entering the outside world.
Lelouch has shot this fantasy of rehabilitation in a gauzy style that never really comes out of soft focus and overexposure, let alone into elementary contact with the real world. From the outset the characters seem to exist only in a cuckooland improvised by the director. Although the story is supposed to account for the unfortunate events that brought the heroine to prison and the period of adjustment that follows her release, the revelations merely reinforce the fundamental silliness of depicting Catherine Deneuve as a glamorpuss inmate.
Imprisoned for 16 years as an accessory to murder, the heroine is presumed to be a victim of circumstance, but Lelouch's documentation leaves the issue clouded. It would be just as reasonable to conclude that she was something of a coy hypocrite whose willful indiscretion led to a fatal confrontation between her boyfriend and her boss. Upon entering prison, she is suddenly obsessed with the idea of getting pregnant, in order to have someone to live for when she gets out. As she pleads to her startled lawyer, played by Charles Denner, "Give me a child! If I know a child is waiting at the other end of the tunnel, it will be easier to be patient."
When he declines to provide stud service, the heroine injures herself and enters the infirmary, where she grabs the first available male, a hospital orderly, and drags him into the bathroom. A son is born, and the devoted Denner supposedly supervises his up-bringing at an orphanage, preventing any family from adopting him through various foxy subterfuges. The heart-tugging question upon the heroine's release is supposed to be: Can she become a real friend and mother to the son who's never known her?
Well, there's a little understandable confusio at first. When the kid learns that he's going to spend summer vacation with two kindly older women -- Deneuve and the mother of her former boyfriend, who committed suicide while serving his murder term -- he gets funny ideas. Even makes a play for mom herself, figuring she's the sort who fancies young guys. She realizes it's time to lay the cards on the table: "I have many things to tell you. I want you to listen carefully. Then you may ask questions afterwards. . ."
Evidently, he gets it the first time, and everything is okey-dokey thereafter. In fact, the resolution of this dilemma appears to leave Lelouch with no more story. Since the heroine never confronts any serious adjustment problems after leaving prison, the filmmaker attempts to have another go at this theme by bringing on Aimee as Beautiful Parolee No. 2.
This gambit leads to goofier domestic consequences. Although Deneuve deflects the boy's sexual advances, Aimee allegedly welcomes them. (Mercifully, Lelouch never gets the nerve to document this affair with tangible love scenes.) Initially miffed at the unorthodox arrangement, the heroine evidently decides to tolerate it, especially after her darling boy is clever enough to set her up with his history teacher. At the fadeout, staged on Mount Blanc, there's every reason to believe that these two fun couples will be happily double-dating forever after.
"Wake me, I'm dreaming," coos the heroine in the arms of her adoring pedagogue. She must be kidding. "A Second Chance" is obviously the product of a filmmaking whimsy that thrives on eternal beauty sleep.