And Now ... Ladies and Gentlemen
2003, PG-13, 126 min. Directed by Claude Lelouch. Starring Jeremy Irons, Patricia Kaas, Alessandra Martines, Thierry Lhermitte, Souad Amidou, Claudia Cardinale.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 22, 2003
What with the Tilt-A-Whirl chaos of the world these days and the creeping dread that anything might now happen at any moment, it’s wonderfully reassuring to know that Jeremy Irons, alone among Creation, will forever be with us, as unchanged and unchangeable as the heavens above. For Irons, putting Dorian Gray to shame has evolved from what one assumes was initially a weekend pursuit ("You say the party’s canceled? Ah, well, I suppose there’s always staying home and remaining ageless in the face of implacable time") to a full-fledged vocation, right up there with refilling his suave reserves (I envision huge tanks of the stuff floating just off the southern coast of France, accessible only by motor launch) and mastering yet another Romance language. Most people I know first encountered Irons in The Mission in 1986, but, for me, the actor crept under my radar and launched what amounted to a full-fledged assault on my senses in David Cronenberg’s unnerving Dead Ringers, the only film to date that actually left me shaking in broad daylight, post-screening. Playing twin gynecologists Beverly and Elliot Mantle to Geneviève Bujold’s gloriously neurotic and biologically mutated patient Claire Niveau, Irons was a fussy, reptilian revelation, a character trait he’s carried over into innumerable roles since then. That film still elicits shivers in places no shivers should rightfully arise; no one has ever been able to master the sort of debauched ick that Irons has. This is an actor who has both Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert and The Time Machine’s Uber-Morlock on his résumé without apparent conflict. Claude Lelouch’s And Now … Ladies and Gentlemen is Irons Lite, composed of equal parts travelogue to sunny, sexy, faraway locales like Morocco; cat-burglar subplot in the manner of To Catch a Thief; and meditation on the mutability of personal identity in the face of both love and amnesia. That may sound like a tall order, but Lelouch, who’s best remembered as the director of 1966’s Palme d’Or-winning A Man and a Woman, makes it feel like one of the precious but tiny baubles Irons’ sardonically thieving character purloins from various classy jewelry retailers when he’s not having a non-spat with his lady friend (Martine) or vanishing on the high seas while traversing the world in his new racing sloop. The film, mostly in French with subtitles, is full of the sort of oblique, clever dialogue that makes you appreciate just how lazy Hollywood screenwriting has become. When Martine asks Irons’ character Valentin Valentin, "These last seven years, were you faithful to me?" his reply is "Often." It’s such a typically, gloriously Franco-Irons line that it might as well be served with a side of chaud beurre for dipping. And Now … Ladies and Gentlemen is littered with exquisite dollops of wit like that, and shot through with lovely, sweeping vistas of seascape and seaside into which Irons half lopes, half oozes, like some sort of lupine virus with full mastery of a cravat. When Valentin – his duplicitous name, Valentin Valentin, fits him to a T – meets up with a similarly afflicted torch singer, played by French chanteuse Kaas, sparks fly, but neither can figure out why, or when, since they both suffer from blackouts. All told, it’s two-plus hours of trinkets and baubles and clever repartée beneath a perfect summer sun and beside the whitewashed walls of Fez, not inconsequential but as ephemeral as the sky above.