Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud
1995, NR, 106 min. Directed by Claude Sautet. Starring Emmanuelle Beart, Michel Serrault, Jean-Hugues Anglade.
REVIEWED By Joey O'Bryan, Fri., Aug. 16, 1996
An intimate drama that meticulously details the relationship between its two titular characters, the aptly titled Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud comes from France to the Lone Star state sporting an impressive critical pedigree, having been nominated for no less than 11 Cesars (France's variation on the Academy Award). Although the movie is certainly quite involving and intelligent, it is also a bit cold emotionally, and perhaps too opaque for its own good. Lovely French superstar Emmanuelle Beart (last seen speaking English in this summer's Mission: Impossible) is Nelly, a hard-working 25-year-old woman with a deadbeat couch-potato boyfriend who has amassed a wealth of debts and overdue bills. Her money problems are instantly solved, however, when a friend introduces her to the elderly Arnaud (Serrault), a lonely, wealthy man who, upon hearing of Nelly's financial woes, offers to write her a check on the spot, thus clearing all her debts with no apparent strings attached. She refuses at first, but soon she accepts, and before long, Nelly finds herself working for her “savior,” helping him to mold into more presentable form his magnum opus, an epic-length memoir of his life as a magistrate on an exotic island colony. Of course, Arnaud has more on his mind than perfecting his manuscript: He's hired Nelly to fill a void in his empty life, a plan that becomes endangered once she's met, and becomes increasingly attracted to, his charming young publisher. Director Claude Sautet -- who got his start in films by writing the screenplay for George Franju's classic shocker Eyes Without a Face but now writes and directs personal, humanistic dramas like this one and 1991's similarly acclaimed Un Coeur en Hiver -- has helmed Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud with considerable taste and reserve, a factor which gives the picture both strengths and weaknesses. Although the distance from which the movie observes its characters does serve Sautet's vision of numerous pairs of people struggling to define their relationships with one another, it also leaves his film a little bland and passionless, screaming out for at least one emotionally raw moment to properly balance this perhaps-too-mannered narrative. Even so, the performances are top-notch and the script has no shortage of witty dialogue, making Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud a very smart, engaging drama, even if its resonance is somewhat stunted by its overpowering restraint.