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Late August, Early September (1998)
It is Paris in the fall. A group of literary
Parisians is gathered around an obscure author named Adrien Willer (Francois Cluzet). His
personality, which once was mercurial and difficult, has undergone a transformation since
his surgery for a serious illness. Each of the people in his circle idolizes him in their
own way. As it becomes obvious that Adrien has not recovered completely from the
operation, each now reevaluates those feelings. As his ex-wife says: "He's too nice
now. I can't trust him."
Amalric) is having the toughest time. He idolizes Adrien, for reasons that seem to have
more to do with Gabriel's dissatisfaction with his own career than with Adrien's writing.
Gabriel is breaking up with Jenny (Jeanne Balibar), and having an affair with the younger
Anne (Virginie Ledoyen). Jenny, meanwhile, has become attracted to Adrien, even as Adrien
himself is carrying on an affair with fifteen-year old Vera (Mia Hansen-Love). When
Adrien's illness takes its inevitable course, all are left to pick up the pieces of their
There are no
surprises, and this seems intentional. Director Olivier Assayas (Irma Vep, L'eau Froide)
is determined to make Late August, Early September a slice of life, serious and
without embellishment. Perhaps he succeeds too well. We observe with some detachment the
marvelous ensemble acting, excellent camera work and crisp editing. Although we cannot
take our eyes off Ms. Balibar, whose performance is remarkable in its understated range of
emotion, she is the only character with whom we can connect.
The reasons behind
Vera's teen aged buoyancy, Gabriel's thirty-something angst, and Adrien's forty-year-old
crises are kept as they would be in reality - partially hidden, deeply personal. When
Jenny hits the screen with her emotions on her sleeve, it's hard to understand how Gabriel
could ever want to leave this woman behind. Perhaps if we understood more we could care
In his thirteen
films since 1979 Assayas has built a reputation for honest examination of complex
emotional issues. Jeremy (Alex Descas) says: "I can find fulfillment in
bitterness." Anne, who loves Gabriel, still craves tougher sex with another man in
the circle. We'd like to know why. We wish Assayas had gone further. In the end we don't
know any more about these characters than we did in the beginning.
Adrien, the central
figure in this circle, is less than satisfying. Francois Cluzet is able to give us
everything but fury. He does it all well, but his refusal to be at least a little bit
angry, either about his health or his stalled literary career, is bothersome. His
performance is no doubt exactly as the director wanted, but would be more believable with
energy instead of resignation.
The music is
first-rate - North African tinged instrumentals and vocals by Ali Faraka Toure. It conveys
perfectly the sense of being strangers that all of these characters feel, strangers both
to themselves and to their newly discovered mortality.