César et Rosalie is very much an actors’ film and Claude Sautet is very much an actors’ director.
Yves Montand often seemed to play doomed European leftwing intellectuals but this performance as a scrap-metal dealer with international connections is a somewhat different character – a loud, gentle, awkward, jealous, childlike, impulsive man – a great performance. He is an attractive man and all bluster and wounded masculinity – he captures exuberant, attractive, funny, and imperfect beautifully.
This is how an aging man who has realized that this is his last chance to love a younger woman would act - he will take much greater risks than the ones he has taken before and often behave like a boy. Being in a relationship with someone as beautiful as Schneider (who was seventeen years younger than Montand) clearly helps him continue in his quest to be the centre of everything – and the connection between the two is immediate from the off.
Opposite him is the actress Romy Schneider as the woman who loves him sometimes and lives with him sometimes, not always at the same sometimes! She is mesmeric and ridiculously attractive and in demand. She is brittle and looking for something that she isn't to fill the gaps – a confused and fascinating and therefore enticing woman.
The third part of the wheel is completed by Sami Frey, an elegant, enormously handsome actor – in many ways he is the wild card; he should be familiar to some as one of Jean-Luc Godard’s Bande à part. His words are simple and he knows how to win a woman's heart - with patience and persistence. He is perfect as the type of man Montand's character should be.
By way of contrast to Montand, Frey (sixteen years Montand’s junior) was associated with a different school of filmmaking and a different generation of filmmakers. He’d appeared for the likes of Georges Franju and, of course, Godard when the director was at his most effervescent. Montand worked with Godard too, on 1972’s Tout va bien, though by this point youthful energies had given way to political motivations; you wouldn’t find him running through the Louvre as Frey had famously done in Bande à part.
Look out for a very young Isabelle Huppert has a small cameo as well. Attractively typical of the kind of free-wheeling drama latterly favoured by the likes of Olivier Assayas (Late August, Early September), Claude Sautet's Romance is a simplistic film exploring a divisive and confused love triangle or more accurately a love-hate story by Director Claude Sautet (who gave us ‘Un Coeur en Hiver’ and also ‘Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud’) which entertains yet gives us a complicated situation and contrives to elevate it to the level of the completely impossible.
With overtones to Jules et Jim or Bande a part the central love triangle that ensues has it all passion; violence, risk and seemingly spontaneous acts of abandon that cause inevitable hurt. Peripheral characters drift in and out of the ‘action’ but the three main characters remain so engaging that all else seems redundant.
The lives of the people portrayed in the film are well observed. Everything from their jobs to their private lives seems to be done with such nonchalance and in such effortless style, that you can't help but be jealous of them no matter how underhanded or debauched their dealings appear.
The main characters interchange with each other so frequently throughout the proceedings and with such scant respect for the feelings of the others that they all come out appearing selfish and insecure to a greater or lesser degree. Essentially between the three main players is an examination of levels of satisfaction within relationships.
The film maintains perfect balance between comedy and drama. It is believable but not painful to watch. On the contrary, it just keeps going, constantly overlapping the funny with the sad, making its points but also giving the viewer plenty of time to ponder them.