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My Wife Is an Actress

Rated R, 93 min. Directed by Yvan Attal. Starring Yvan Attal, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Terence Stamp, Noemie Lvosky, Laurent Bateau.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 30, 2002

In his directing debut, French actor-turned-director Yvan Attal turns the camera on himself. It's tempting to say he turns the camera on himself and his wife, the famous actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, but really, this is a movie just about Attal, as his title duly warns. Part comedy, part drama, the movie winds up accomplishing neither in full, and leaves us feeling touched and amused by several moments and ideas, but nevertheless dissatisfied with the movie as a whole. A lot of interesting concepts are floating about in My Wife Is an Actress, even though focused examination is not part of the agenda. Attal grows concerned over the illusions involved in acting. What happens when actors emote, or more to the point, perform in love scenes? Is acting really the art of pretend or is there a genuine loss of identity involved? Does an actor lose him- or herself during a love scene or are those looks of ecstatic pleasure merely the result of deft dramatic skill? When bodies touch or kiss, is it possible for there to be no physical reaction or emotion? Gainsbourg assures Yvan of her love, but deep down Yvan suspects that actors just pretend to pretend. These are the sorts of questions that plague Attal in his movie, in which he has fictionalized his character into a sportswriter married to Gainsbourg. The extent to which the rest of the story is fiction or truth we can only guess. We witness the little affronts to Yvan's dignity caused by being married to someone famous: The same maitre d' that won't take his reservation happily complies when his wife calls instead, and a traffic cop lets him off with a simple warning when Gainsbourg smiles sweetly in his direction. Still, Attal is seemingly okay with the situation until some acquaintance starts barraging him with naughty questions about what it's like to be married to an actress. It doesn't help that Gainsbourg is heading off to shoot a movie in London with an international star also known to be a notorious womanizer (Stamp, who plays this role with delightful glee). Attal's dilemmas are contrasted with those of his pregnant sister and her husband, who are arguing over whether to circumcise their soon-to-be-born son in the Jewish tradition of the mother or leave things unsnipped in the proud image of the father. I'm not sure what aim this counterpoint serves, although it does broaden the story away from its insular vacuum. Attal seems he would enjoy nothing better than to become the French Woody Allen, and his comic anxieties do often call to mind the master. But My Wife Is an Actress is neither funny enough nor provocative enough to compare with the best of Allen. The serious questions raised by Attal go unanswered, and the humor is not sustained throughout. It's a delight to see Gainsbourg on film being more or less herself (we assume) rather than the lovely but cryptic face to which so many of her directors have diminished her. In the end, one's appreciation of My Wife Is an Actress may depend on the extent to which you like the character of Yvan and relate to his anxieties. Some of us think Gainsbourg, the character, should have held out for a better match.
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