We'll Always Have Paris

In their infinite wisdom, Sony Pictures Classics, whose offices are in New York, decided to independently release the intricate French drama The Accompanist here in Miami on the eve of the Miami Film Festival. The Festival is an extremely popular and eagerly anticipated orgy of foreign movies that would sate even the most ardent cineaste's appetite. The Accompanist is a somber, delicate World War II love story with a heavy classical music score. Although beautifully acted and proficiently directed, it would have had trouble finding an audience even without any competition from the Festival. Sneaking it onto a small screen at a pair of multiplexes (AMC's CocoWalk and Fashion Island) with little advance publicity just as the annual celluloid celebration kicks into gear makes about as much sense as holding an arena football game on Super Sunday.

The Accompanist is the third recent movie produced by Jean-Louis Livi (the other two were Tous les matins du monde and Un coeur en hiver) that features extended performances of classical music as an integral element of the story. Like the previous two, that should make The Accompanist a tough sell to American audiences more accustomed to pop soundtracks. Too bad France doesn't have any decent rock stars.

Nothing against the Miami Film Festival -- it's a venerable local institution and this year's roster of films is particularly strong -- but it would be a shame if everyone slaked their thirst for foreign spirits without at least tasting this vintage libation. The film is a classy tale of love and betrayal distinguished by a haunting, dazzling performance by Richard Bohringer (Diva; The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover).

The year is 1942; the place is Nazi-occupied Paris. It's a time of food rationing and shortages. Looking like a cross between Glenn Close on a good day and Jan Hooks on a bad one, Elena Safonova is Irene Brice, a glamorous Parisian diva accustomed to the good life ("I'm surrounded by people who shield me from hardships and deprivation," she explains). Irene hires Sophie Vasseur, a young pianist as guarded as she is gifted, to be her accompanist. Richard Bohringer's twenty-year-old daughter Romane plays Sophie with burning intensity and laudable restraint.

Irene becomes Sophie's mentor in more than just music. The two women dine on champagne and caviar at elegant parties where dowagers feed their meticulously coiffed poodles at the table. Sophie at once embraces and reviles the spoils of wealth, a dichotomy that mirrors her love-hate relationship with Irene. Soon the young woman is running errands for the popular songstress, one of which entails the delivery of a note to Irene's lover Jacques. Sophie voluntarily becomes accomplice as well as accompanist, and begins to chafe at her chosen role of observer of events rather than participant. But Sophie's journey is only half the story The Accompanist has to tell.

The other half revolves around Irene's husband Charles, played by the elder Bohringer. Charles Brice appears to be only a minor player in the early part of the film. He's a savvy, well-to-do black marketeer who can't make up his mind between collaborating with the Nazis or joining the Resistance. He appears to be consumed with making money. As the film builds to an unavoidably tragic conclusion, writer-director Claude Miller deftly reveals both that Charles has been more anti-Nazi than even his closest friends realized, and that he knows all too well of his wife's illicit love affair. And, despite a stoic outward appearance, that knowledge is eating him up inside.

As the Nazis' grip tightens and his hold on his wife slips, Charles decides the time has come to bail out of Paris with Irene and hightail it to London. He offers Sophie the option of fleeing with them or staying behind in Paris, and the young accompanist opts for the dangerous journey to England. Unfortunately for Charles, that's where Jacques is too.

A bittersweet love story set in motion by the Nazi occupation of Paris featuring a noble entrepreneur who goes to great lengths to appear cynical A where have you seen those elements before? Some may call it heresy to even mention The Accompanist in the same breath as Casablanca, but they both cover much of the same terrain. Of course, the two films are poles apart in tone; The Accompanist is darker, narrower in scope, and generally not as much fun. It is a very good film, not a classic. Richard Bohringer's performance, however, is one for the time capsule.

 
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