(Air Date: Week Of 10/30/96)
Less can be more, as we all know, and "The Proprietor", a Merchant Ivory film starring Jeanne Moreau, proves that more can be less. The idea behind the film is solid -- the venerable, but still fascinating Moreau, plays a famous French writer, Adrienne Marker, who has spent the last thirty years in New York. She's haunted by childhood memories of her mother being taken away by Nazis. Learning of the death of the conniving man who stole her mother's apartment in Paris, Adrienne decides to return to Paris, buy the apartment, and reclaim her past. Before leaving, she gives a valuable portrait of herself as a child to her black maid, Millie.
This story, combined with Jeanne Moreau's strong presence, and the atmosphere of Paris, would've made a warm and charming film. But someone must've said: Wait, that's not enough -- an aging woman and her memories? Let's add subplots!
We'll have this young American photographer-- he's a free spirit since he wears a backpack-- who idolizes Adrienne and goes to Paris to photograph her. But wait, we need some young love interest -- a ravishing, young American movie exec, with a Texas style, wants to remake a film by one of Adrienne's old friends, only, being American, her taste is really vulgar. But the old Frenchman's son can take her in-hand, and, they can dance around these filigreed fountains, and sing, and look ga ga. Wow!
Then cut to a subplot where competitors outbid Adrienne for her mother's apartment. But, back in New York, Millie the generous maid, outsmarts this ripoff art dealer, played by Sam Waterston, and sells Adrienne's painting for so much that she can buy the apartment after all! Yea -- now Adrienne can have every thing because she's rich and famous and French, and, of course, Millie, the maid, would never need any extra cash.
There's a scene where Adrienne reminesces in the apartment, but -- zoom to another subplot -- rightwing French politicians lambast Adrienne on TV news, only then there's a garden party where everything's O.K., and Adrienne and her ex-husband, who we've hardly seen, announce they're going to re-marry, as if we care.
It's good to seen the charismatic and distinguished Jeanne Moreau in what could have been a juicy role, except that what was probably conceived as a mood piece turns into a three-ring circus, where they throw in everything but the mood. See it only if you need an antidote for too much gritty realism.
Copyright 1996 Mary Weems
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