Arrow Video: Melo (1986) - Reviewed

Cinematic legend Alain Resnais (Last Year at Marienbad) chose to recreate a 1929 romantic Parisian play in 1986 called Melo.  A curious choice for the celluloid sorcerer, the story follows a doomed love triangle between two musicians and the woman who captures their heart.  Applying his well know techniques, Resnais takes a powerful trio of performances and melds them into a unique marriage of stage and theater that celebrates both forms of visual art. 

Everything within Melo is artificial, save; perhaps, its principals.  Lightning and shadows are manipulated in an unnatural manner, while curtains fall in between acts.  While the camera moves in for a handful of close ups, it remains static for a lot of the slow, dialogue filled sequences that dominate the film.  It is an interesting experiment, that mostly works out and the final result is a glacially paced drama that presents mature moral dilemmas to its audience, and this may be Resnais' ultimate goal.  If one's heart is split between their spouse and their lover, is there a way out?  While the film tragically answers this through a series of obtuse (purposefully) and cold exchanges, it is impossible for the viewer to not construct personal avenues of escape within the mind's eye. 

Sabine Azema's unforgettable turn as Romaine garnered her a Cesar Award for Best Actress when the film debuted.  Her turn is interesting because of her remarkable ability to bring practicality to matters of the heart, both shockingly draconian and woefully sacrificial.  She is supported by Pierre Arditi and Andre Dussollier as the men love Romaine.  The former friends turned casual adversaries are the best part, particularly during the first act, when they verbally display their personality differences.

Charles Van Damme’s languid cinematography is the constructive tissue, weaving artful shot after shot through the heart of the story.  While the principals are “dueling” musicians, there is almost no music at all, with Resnais electing to use visuals to communicate the story.  This concept is reinforced with potent compositions that fill virtually every scene.  The eventual yield is a truly unique, albeit difficult viewing experience.   

Ultimately the film's slow pacing and alien-like approach to the emotional material may repel certain viewers.  However, upon reflection, it becomes clear that this was intentional, with Resnais attempting to mimic the environment of the stage within the big screen, creating an almost nesting doll-like viewing experience, and this alone merits a viewing.  The film is currently available on Blu-Ray from Arrow Academy.

--Kyle Jonathan