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Half in Love: Stories

. "And Now Ladies and Gentlemen"

Ladies and gentlemen, Claude Lelouch gives you a love story. Or, should that be a double love story? Or, a disease of the month story? Or, the fitful adventures of a master thief? Or, the strange dreams of a ravishing lounge singer? In that it's all of the above, one will readily see that the Lelouch touch is neither straightforward nor simple. This unique love adventure has so many character nuances and plot twists it's almost certain to keep you engaged which, of course, is the point.

Valentin Valentin (Jeremy Irons) is no common thief. His is the realm of sophisticated taste and the clever ploy, abetted by disguise and guided by a preference for fine gems. His first heist caper is to pretend to a jewelry store owner that he's a detective heading up an operation to catch a thief who is about to rob the store. Since the police team needs to apprehend him with the loot, the owner is to cooperate with the robber. Anxious to do so, the owner and his assistant all but welcomes Valentin himself as he effortlessly absconds with some fine jewels. A bit far-fetched? Just wait.

As though to regale us with an altogether different kind of entertainment, singer Jane Lester (the French sensation Patricia Kaas) performs a jazzy lounge duet with her rival in a contested affair with the trumpet player (Samuel Labarthe). Losing the love war, she packs up for distant parts, landing in Morocco where she picks up a gig singing at her hotel for the patrons. Her sultry shadings of vocal art are those of a major talent in French and English song styling. But memory lapses begin to intrude on her work and she seeks out a local doctor.

Researching his next score for a famous necklace, Valentin meets Francoise (Alessandra Martines), a greater catch than the diamonds. Then things start to go wrong for him. There's an affliction in the air. Valentin has blackouts. In a literal case of changing course, he buys a racing yacht from David (Yvan Attal), arranges for David and Francoise to get together, and takes off on a round the world cruise. But his affliction strikes him down off Morocco and he winds up seeking cat scans from the same doctor as Jane Lester's.

If you're thinking this is straining coincidence, assume that it plays better than it reads.

Director Lelouch introduces to the audiences of America not one, but two rather illustrious and accomplished personalities from French cinema and stage. Alessandra Martines, for long an important presence in French cinema, devastates with sensuous beauty and an intriguing personality. A prize.

But Lelouch isn't done with casting originality. In her first theatrical film, husky-voiced no-nonsense chanteuse Patricia Kaas makes possible the major story element of a lounge singer on a talent level that has bewitched French audiences for at least 16 years and 10 highly appreciated CD albums. Her soft but determined stage presence translates to the screen with confident honesty. Her singing within the context of the narrative might make a jazz lover out of you. The low timbre of her vocals will bring to mind Marlene Dietrich and Edith Piaf, but she's her own unique stylist who, with her commanding presence here, will bring attention to a new star for the broader musical and film scene.

If anyone is still doubting Mr. Lelouch's inventiveness in casting, he goes on to create the role of very rich Madame Falconnetti, a spirited dowager cheating on her CEO husband with every handsome bartender or Lothario that crosses her path. A stereotype if ever there was one, yet actress Claudia Cardinale distinguishes the role with smashing singularity.

Claude Lelouch has bettered his prior work in a day when he's no longer the household name in America that he was during the sixties ("A Man and a Woman", 1966). He developed his screenplay with co-writer Pierre Leroux and, demonstrates his technical skills on the visual side with cinematographer Pierre-William Glenn.

This worthy import may attest to the revolutionary concept of improvement with age. It seems to be working that way for a filmmaker whose stock in trade is exploring complex romantic involvement in a complex cinematic style.

This is a movie you drift with, and get enveloped in its unique atmosphere of intelligence, adventure and talent. If you dig jazz or romance, you should see it. If you dig both, it would be a tragedy to miss.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

Patricia Kaas' latest album: "Piano Bar"

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Jeremy Irons and Patricia Kaas
The itinerant jewel thief, the singer on the run,
sharing an affliction and a feeling

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