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August 7, 2005

Le Parfum d'Yvonne, 1994

The brooding and achingly sensual Monsieur Hire was my first exposure to Patrice Leconte's films, and to a great extent, it was this initial encounter with haunted obsession and sad-eyed romanticism that propelled me to continue to seek out his body of work, trying to recapture in some way the searing melancholia and bittersweet intoxication - the elusive intensity of feeling - that had marked the experience. At times, his films would follow a similar trajectory of foreboding obsession and consciousness of elusive happiness without achieving a similar weight of tragedy (most notably, The Hairdresser's Husband); at other times, his films would embark on a different manifestation of obsession and fatalism that were accomplished and satisfying, but nevertheless remained sentimentally dissimilar to the experience of watching Monsieur Hire (as in The Girl on the Bridge, The Man on the Train, and Intimate Strangers).

parfum.gifIt is interesting to note that Monsieur Hire is a tailor: a profession that, as rendered in Wong Kar-wai's atmospheric Eros installment, The Hand, involves a degree of familiarity but also a certain kind of calculated, analytical detachment. In hindsight, this paradoxical coexistence between intimacy and distance lies at the core of Le Parfum d'Yvonne as well. In the film, a carefree drifter and French expatriate named Victor Chmara bides his time "growing old as gently as possible" (and perhaps trying to evade conscription in the Algerian War), living a rootless, seemingly privileged life from one lodging house to another in Geneva when he meets a wealthy, flamboyant physician, Rene Meinthe (Jean-Pierre Marielle) and his protégée, a beautiful, aspiring actress named Yvonne Jacquet (Sandra Majani). At first, Rene's relationship with Yvonne seems indecipherable - or perhaps, too sordidly obvious - to Victor as he tries to seduce the young woman behind Rene's back (or rather, under the dining table). However, even after realizing Rene's open homosexuality, his attachment to Yvonne remains a mystery, as the two travel in social circles where money and affection change hands all too casually. But Victor is also a mystery, introducing himself as a Russian count but without any visible means of support or a vocation (and who, at the beginning of the film, was compelled to change accommodations from the L'Hermitage luxury hotel to a more modest bed and breakfast guest house). Told through a series of intersecting flashbacks between recent past (filmed in brisk, rough, wintry darkness) and several years earlier (filmed in warm, sun-bathed hues and cerulean summer skies) from Victor's perspective, the film is an evocative and fascinating deconstruction, not only of obsessive impenetrability, but also the character demystification of the enigmatic narrative hero. Like Monsieur Hire, Victor's inescapable tragedy lies in his own tacit complicity to perpetuate the masquerade and transparent deception in order to hold onto the unsustainable illusion of blissful, idealized innocence.

Posted by acquarello on Aug 07, 2005 | | Filed under 2005


I've only seen Hire and it was a dog's age ago. Can you suggest what I might rent next?

Posted by: girish on Aug 08, 2005 4:07 PM | Permalink

Is The Girl on the Bridge available on DVD here? I know it's out in the UK and I've also seen it play on Sundance Channel. I'd suggest that or Intimate Strangers. Then I'd rate The Hairdresser's Husband a slight notch below, then The Man on the Train, Ridicule, and The Widow of St. Pierre as "average" Leconte (Felix et Lola is in this area too). Le Parfum d'Yvonne is up there, somewhere along the level of The Hairdresser's Husband.

The thing about Monsieur Hire though is that I'm so attached to the film that everything else that he has done seems pale in comparison. It's a bit like between obsessed with obsession. :)

Posted by: acquarello on Aug 08, 2005 5:45 PM | Permalink


I've yet to see this film, but it is of particular interest to me not only because I love Leconte, but also because it's based on "Villa Triste", a very good novel by Patrick Modiano. I heartily recommend this and other novels by Modiano; you might like them as he always writes about things like loss of innocence, fleeting happiness and inability to let go of memories. Moreover, Modiano's prose is gorgeous, and it has a "cinematic" quality that often screams to be filmed.

I looking forward to seeing "Le Parfum d'Yvonne", as Leconte and Modiano's sensibilities seem to me a perfect match.

Posted by: JL on Aug 08, 2005 6:06 PM | Permalink

Thanks for the Modiano tip! Indeed, there was certainly a lot of depth to the film in terms of the characters' darker motivations which play out in contrast to the bright, sunny summer days in Geneva. There was a train scene in the film that also reminded me of Hire.

Posted by: acquarello on Aug 09, 2005 8:53 AM | Permalink

Thanks for the tips, Acquarello.
Yes, The Girl On The Bridge is available on DVD here. I think I should give it a spin sometime.

Posted by: girish on Aug 09, 2005 12:40 PM | Permalink

Excuse ma about my english but i'm French .
There arre somme mistakes in Le parfum d'Yvonne 's critic.
René Meinthe ( JP Marielle) is doctor not physician. Strange chracter : queer in the same time mysteruious man because involved in algeria war and terrorists (OAS french movment for a french algeria which tried to kill the genneral de gaulle in sixties) .
"Rene's relationship with Yvonne seems indecipherable - or perhaps, too sordidly obvious - to Victor as he tries to seduce the young woman behind Rene's back (or rather, under the dining table). However, even after realizing Rene's open homosexuality", i am not agree with this point of view. There in no ambiguit between Yvonne et Doctor and Victor knows about that. Meinthe is gay as we can see at first secene with him.
Victor do not ressit bout the charm of Yvonne and that's all. Victor talks about their encounters (rencontre) as a revelation.
In fact, Le parfum d yvonne was a big fail for Lecomte . It was pity because this movie is sweet and sensual. This an evocation of an elegant , sensual and lazy times. Of course, This movie comes from a novel of Modiano who are one the best french author alive in France. His style is very particular and mysterious.

Posted by: feufollet on Aug 07, 2006 5:57 AM | Permalink

Hmm...I could have sworn that there was something in one of the scenes (a prescription given?) that indicated that Meinthe was more likely a physician than a Ph.D., but it's been a while.

Also, I could have sworn that although the audience knew for certain that Meinthe was interested in men from the early scene, it wasn't something that Victor definitely knew for certain. He could have been just as easily bisexual. The frustration for him was I think more of this strange "hold" that he had on her.

Posted by: acquarello on Aug 07, 2006 10:29 AM | Permalink

Patrice Leconte, one of cinema's greatest directors currently living, has made many films. Unfortunately, only 7 of them have been released in America in theaters (or VHS/DVD). My ranking goes this way:

1. Ridicule
2. The Hairdresser's Husband
3. Monsieur Hire
4. The Girl on the Bridge
5. Intimate Strangers
6. The Widow of St. Pierre
7. Man on the Train

These are all, more or less, very good to great films that deserve recognition!

Posted by: Eric Wilkinson on Mar 08, 2007 7:13 PM | Permalink

It looks as though Leconte's latest, My Best Friend is screening in competition at Tribeca (2/3 down on page).

Posted by: acquarello on Mar 14, 2007 10:50 AM | Permalink

Girl on the Bridge must not be seen too early in life. I saw it too early and I have seen it now again. Stupendous ! If one has to suffer in life in exchange of understanding and awakening - then so be it . Thankyou Mr. P. L.

Posted by: PG in NYC on Jan 30, 2008 1:19 AM | Permalink

Good point, PG. I also got the sense that the ending was not so much coming full circle as it was about two people finding each other again, but from a different place and history. It's quite poetic.

Posted by: acquarello on Jan 30, 2008 12:58 PM | Permalink

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