The Great Game (Le grand jeu), directed by Nicolas Pariser, is a French thriller, that relates the political struggle of Joseph Paskin (Andre Dussollier) against the Minister of the Interior. The struggle seems to be purely for the sake of power rather than over principles or ideology. Paskin recruits Pierre Blum (Melvil Poupaud) to write an extreme left-wing book which will encourage Paskin’s foe to overreact by cracking down on a miniscule left-wing sect and so destroy his reputation and fall from power. This scheme can be considered either convoluted or sophisticated (or both). Blum was once a leftist himself and also a promising novelist, but he has not published anything after his first novel and so can use the money Paskin offers him. In addition, of course,he is familiar with the leftist mindset and polemics. Up to this point the film is an intelligent, at times witty, thriller but a strong romantic element is added when Blum meets–through his ex-wife Laura (Clemence Poesy) who manages an art gallery and retains left-wing sympathies.–a woman who is a member of the leftist anarchist group targetted by Paskin. This woman, Caroline (Sophie Cattani) is a young fanatic but personally and physically attractive. I think the romantic element comes to dominate the film at the end. In a way this is appropriate since both male leads had major roles in film romances of Eric Rohmer (Mr. Dussollier in The Aviator’s Wife and Mr. Poupaud in A Summer’s Tale).
The machinations are purely romantic or marital in Whit Stillman’s latest, Love & Friendship. Mr. Stillman, our wittiest director, here films a Jane Austen novella and it is a match well made. Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) is a widow not well provided for financially. Edmund Burke’s famous words apply to her: “…vice itself lost half its evil, by losing all its grossness,” She is very beautiful and elegant and also manipulative and utterly self-regarding. She deliberately sets out to attract a younger man she is not serious about, Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel). Meanwhile, she pressures her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) to marry a wealthy fool, Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett) to whom she is not in the least attracted. While there is plenty of dry wit, a lot of humor also arises from Martin’s ludicrous character. This is a perfect film of its type and a lot of fun.