Passage à l’Acte (1996)

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A psychoanalyst copes with a failed marriage, a psychopathic patient and the advances of a neurotic femme fatale!

vt Death in Therapy
France / 100 minutes / color / Arena, Camera One, D.A. Films, France 2 Cinéma, Canal+, Cofimage 7, Pyramide Dir: Francis Girod Pr: Bruno Pesery, Michel Seydoux Scr: Francis Girod, Michel Grisolia, Gerard Miller Story: Neutralité Malveillante (1992) by Jean-Pierre Gattégno Cine: Charlie Van Damme Cast: Daniel Auteuil, Patrick Timsit, Anne Parillaud, Michèle Laroque, Marc Berman, Marc Chouppart, Clotilde de Bayser, Marianne Denicourt, Jean-Michel Noirey, Anne-Marie Philipe, Hélène Fillières, Aurélien Recoing, Florence Viala, Anne Le Ny, Eric Laugerias, Romain Legrand.

Passage a l'Acte - 3 The evidence of the newspaper article

A year or so ago, high-flying psychoanalyst Sylvain Meyer was killed in an outlandish car accident. Today his protégé Antoine Rivière (Auteuil) is having a little difficulty making ends meet in his solo psychoanalytic practice: even though he has cachet enough to attract patients and charge high prices, the mansion that he bought to house the practice is draining his finances and the bank is on his neck. His ex-wife Florence (Laroque), with whom he’s still on friendly terms, seems to be doing much better—certainly she’s able and willing to lend him fat sums of money when need be.

Passage a l'Acte - 10 Florence

Florence (Michèle Laroque), the separated wife but loyal friend.

His brokeness is all the more surprising in that he’s evidently a bestselling author and a regular participant on TV talk shows. Of course, he has to maintain a staff of two: Felicité (uncredited) and Fabienne (Le Ny).

Passage a l'Acte - 1 Isabelle undergoes therapy

Isabelle (Anne Parillaud) undergoes therapy with Antoine (Daniel Auteuil).

In all directions he’s surrounded by heartstoppingly beautiful women. Ex-wife Florence is one. His editor at the publishing house (uncredited) is another. His colleague Nathalie (Denicourt) is yet another. Two of his patients fit the bill as well, one unidentified and uncredited, the other the wealthy heiress Isabelle d’Archambault (Parillaud, of NIKITA [1990] fame), who states quite explicitly that she has the hots for him and whose movements on his psychoanalytic couch make her availability plain. Antoine resists temptation so far as his patients are concerned, but is less inhibited with his editor and, later, Nathalie. I imagine every straight male viewer of this movie must share two reactions: (a) what do they see in him? and (b) where can I get an air ticket to Paris, er, now?

Passage a l'Acte - 4 Nathalie laughs at a trick she's played on Antoine

Antoine’s colleague Nathalie (Marianne Denicourt).

Passage a l'Acte - 2 At first Berg seems to be just another patient

At first Berg (Patrick Timsit) seems to be just another patient.

He has two male patients of note. One is a tall lanky beanpole of a man, a depressed teacher of classic languages, Sébastien Davenne (Chouppart). The other is a slimy little fellow who gives his name to Antoine as Édouard Berg (Timsit). At first Antoine doesn’t think too much about Berg, but then his patient begins to tell him, not just that he murdered his (Berg’s) wife Laura, but all the horrific details of the deed.

Further, Berg insists that Antoine start investigating various proofs that he offers to prove he’s no fabulator, that he’s telling the truth. One is an article in the newspaper Le Parisien that appeared around the time Laura vanished. When Antoine goes to the offices of Le Parisien he discovers that, the day before, someone using his name phoned up to order a photocopy of the article in question. Another clue that Berg offers is directions to a garden shed where Laura’s mud-stained dress has been left hanging; sure enough, when finally Antoine summons the nerve to go there, he finds the dress.

Passage a l'Acte - 6 Antoine finds Laura's dress just as described

Antoine finds Laura’s dress just as described.

Intermittently Antoine’s childhood friend Marc Guérin (Noirey), now a senior cop, calls Antoine in to HQ to ask his advice about the various recent crimes that seem to be associated with his practice. Antoine keeps his lips as tightly buttoned as possible, ever giving the excuse of professional confidentiality.

Berg begins to encroach on Antoine’s family. He tries to make himself a patient of Florence’s. He approaches Antoine’s young son Simon (Legrand) in the men’s toilets of the Jardin des Plantes when father and son are having an outing there. His most violent assault on the family’s sense of security is to run over the Rivières’ dog Bataille.

Passage a l'Acte - 5 A day out at the Jardin des Plantes for Antoine and Simon

A day out at the Jardin des Plantes for Antoine (Daniel Auteuil) and son Simon (Romain Legrand).

There are further murders as Berg escalates his godgaming campaign against the luckless psychoanalyst. Berg presents much of the godgaming to Antoine right out in the open: he explains how he concealed Laura’s murder by hiring a prostitute who worked out of the seedy Club Jude l’Obscur, Nina (Viala), to mimic Laura and leave the country supposedly with a Brazilian lover. The whole time that Antoine tracks down and interviews Nina he’s under Berg’s control; yet Nina, too, in her pretense of cooperation with Antoine, is really playing Berg’s puppet, only to discover that she too is being godgamed by Berg.

Passage a l'Acte - 8 Club Jude l'Obscur

Antoine (Daniel Auteuil) at Club Jude l’Obscur.

Passage a l'Acte - 9 Nina

Nina (Florence Viala).

Antoine’s patient Isabelle has for months been complaining that her father is forcing her into marriage with a man called Henri—a man who, improbably, is resisting the idea of premarital sex with her. She declares she doesn’t love him—her psychoanalyst is, after all, the man she craves—but feels she has to go through with the marriage for the sake of dear old daddy. The night of her wedding she arrives on Antoine’s doorstep, badly beaten, Henri having suddenly turned violent on her rather than celebrate their first marital night in the customary fashion.

There’s quite a lot more plot before the end. Perhaps the most darkly amusing part occurs very late on when Antoine, purely through passively playing on the vanity of investigating cop Inspecteur Vernant (Recoing), is able to direct the investigation down entirely the wrong avenue; the source novel’s title is especially applicable here. Another late realization is that Berg’s entire campaign has been mounted in an attempt to bring out Antoine’s own inner sociopath—to make him Berg’s heir, as it were.

Passage a l'Acte - 11 Antoine arrives at Berg's house

Antoine (Daniel Auteuil) approaches Berg’s house.

This can be watched either as a neonoir/psychological thriller or as a dark, bitter satire whose targets lie in the same general direction as those of Herman Koch’s novel Het Diner (2009; vt The Dinner 2012). The movie’s ending is exquisitely amoral; I found it reminiscent of the end of The LAST SEDUCTION (1994), released a couple of years before, and it’s by no means impossible that, though the two movies are completely different in plot, director/scripter Girod took a lesson from that earlier piece. However you choose to read it, this movie seems far more intelligently conceived and executed than its Hollywood equivalent might be—in fact, paradoxically, if the script were made in this country it might well be doomed to TV-movie obscurity. After all, let’s not forget that this was the fate that met The Last Seduction, which was made for and first screened on HBO, thereby denying Linda Fiorentini the Oscar nomination she so richly deserved, not to mention all the other Oscar noms it might have had.

Passage a l'Acte - 7 Beatrice's gravestone

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8 thoughts on “Passage à l’Acte (1996)

  1. Ooh, definitely one for me. Daniel Auteuil and shades of The Last Seduction – sounds great. Funnily enough, I revisited another of Auteuil’s films at the weekend: Un Coeur en Hiver. Wonderful stuff.

    Right, off to see if I can track this down.

    • Hope you have good luck finding it! I think I found it on YouTube but, if so, it’s not there now.

      With your talk of other Daniel Auteuil movies, you’ve inspired me to order La Fille sur le Pont from the library.

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