The Liars

(Les menteurs, Élie Chouraqui, France, 1996)


Although many French films appear in Australian art houses, few of them count as movies that we must see. Why great and important French films get passed up in favour of such insubstantial fairy floss as The Dinner Game (1998) is beyond me.

The Liars is another pseudo-art film from France to set me shaking my head in furious disbelief. Director Élie Chouraqui (Words and Music, 1984) is a filmmaker with some energy, and certainly an eye and ear for what makes his nation's cinema fashionable in other countries.

His film is full of striking compositions, raw moments of performance and surprising comparisons between the lives of a group of filmmakers and the project they are making. It is just a pity that none of it coalesces or captivates for more than two minutes at a time.

It starts, very promisingly, as a modern cross between All About Eve (1950) and John Cassavetes' masterpiece about the perils of acting, Opening Night (1977). Daisy (the very compelling Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) is a writer who longs to break into the film business. She stages a stunt that wangles her into the home of neurotic star Hélène (Lorraine Bracco) – and is very soon her inseparable personal assistant.

Coincidentally, on the same night that Daisy arrives, Hélène's husband Zac (Jean-Hughes Anglade), a noted film director – and one of those troubled, restless, visionary artists that movies love to romanticise – disappears. Months later his suave producer Marcus (Sami Frey) – who has, in the meantime, seduced the hapless Hélène – finds Zac in a homeless, feral state. So Marcus contrives for Daisy to co-write Zac's comeback project. The scene is now set for fantasies to be played out, and agonised, hidden memories to flow forth.

The Liars is a weightless, artificially primed film. The pained melodrama that the characters live out is so risible, and so little attached to any normal psychology, that one often suspects it will be revealed at any moment as a vast, demented dream-sequence. Meanwhile, Chouraqui indulges in silly games of juxtaposition and reversal that are exasperating, or plain boring, rather than meaningful.

Still, the movie has a single saving grace: it plays Free's rock classic "All Right Now" often, and loudly.

© Adrian Martin June 1997

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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