The French title – ‘Coeurs’ (‘Hearts’) – of Resnais’ latest is more suggestive of the film than that of the Alan Ayckbourn play which is its source – not only because the movie is wholly preoccupied by its characters’ emotional lives, but because it is arguably the most affecting film the famously cool, reticent octogenarian director has made.
Consisting of about 50 brief scenes – most essentially two-handers – it focuses on six Parisians. Nicole (Laura Morante) is seeking a bigger apartment, as her unemployed lover (Lambert Wilson) wants his own study; heaven knows why, given that he spends most of his time in a swanky watering hole, boozily bemoaning his lot to Lionel (Pierre Arditi), a patient barman with his own problems in the (unseen) shape of a terminally hostile bed-ridden father. This monster needs attention while Lionel’s at work, which is why he’s engaged the services of part-time carer Charlotte (Sabine Azéma), a deeply religious sort keen, perhaps, to convert her estate agent boss Thierry (André Dussollier) – the man, incidentally, who’s trying to find a flat agreeable to Nicole, and whose younger sister Gaelle (Isabelle Carré) is seeking romance through the lonely-hearts ads.
Actually, it’s not just Gaelle but everyone here – even Lionel’s dad – who’s afflicted in one way or another, by loneliness. Not that the movie’s remotely depressing; much of it is gently funny, while the superbly sustained aura of delicate artifice – this is a Paris where it’s always silently snowing, even, at one point, indoors – lends the characters’ repeated attempts to break free of their boxed-in lives the ritualistic magic of a fairy tale. The tenderness with which Resnais observes their efforts makes for genuinely enchanting entertainment.