October 10, 2006
There is an early survey of the interiors of a vacant Bercy apartment at the opening sequence of Coeurs that immediately evokes early Alain Resnais in the recurring theme of architectural memory, as the camera pans to the majestic domed ceiling of a converted building, artificially bisected by a superfluous wall constructed for the sole purpose of inflating the advertised unit as a three room apartment. However, while the introductory evocation is revealed within the seemingly mundane context of apartment hunting, the ensuing conversation between the client Nicole (Laura Morante) and her real estate agent Thierry (André Dussollier) on the impracticality of shared access to the subdivided room's lone window foreshadows the film's overarching structure as the recurring thread of shared spaces between the film's unfulfilled characters - Thierry and his hopeless romantic sister Gaëlle (Isabelle Carré), Thierry and his pious office partner Charlotte (Sabine Azéma), Nicole and her layabout fiancé Dan (Lambert Wilson), the bartender Lionel (Pierre Arditi) and his cantankerous invalid father Arthur (Claude Rich) - reveal the complexity of the interconnected relational dynamics that bind them to their loneliness, emotional stasis, and unrequited longing. Based on Private Fears in Public Places by British playwright Alan Aykbourn (whose play Intimate Exchanges also serves as the basis for Resnais' earlier film Smoking/No Smoking), Coeurs is perhaps Resnais' most satisfyingly cerebral film since Mon Oncle d'Amerique (a correlation that is further reinforced by the schematic crane shots of interior spaces that recalls the maze-like behavioral observations of Mon Oncle d'Amerique). A sublime, elegant, and reassuring convergence in the aesthetic evolution of Resnais' cinema from the experimental structures of his early films to the conscious formalism of his later work, Coeurs is a thoughtful and melancholic exposition on the interconnectedness of memory, isolation, and loneliness - the unarticulated vulnerability behind the constructed artifice - liminally revealed through the awkward formality and passing glances of near encounters and existential coincidences that map the indefinable and enigmatic trajectories of the human heart.