The French Find Young Love in Post Coitum … A Fugitive With Half the Attitude

Brigitte Roüan’s Post Coitum (Post-Coïtum, Animal Triste in France), from a screenplay by Ms. Roüan, Santiago Amigorena, Jean-Louis Richard, Guy

Brigitte Roüan’s Post Coitum (Post-Coïtum, Animal Triste in France), from a screenplay by Ms. Roüan, Santiago Amigorena, Jean-Louis Richard, Guy Zilberstein and Philippe Le Guay, begins as a series of writhing catlike spasms expressing the unsatisfied sexual hunger of a 40-year-old book editor for a man half her age. This would seem to be a familiar French-film formula for the depiction of l’amour fou. Yet Ms. Roüan claims that the subject suggested itself to her from her observation of biologically logical younger man-older woman liaisons in America. “When I was here in 1990, promoting my film Overseas, I was struck by the number of women who were involved with much younger men. Since Americans are always six years ahead of us, I started looking around when I got home. French women were starting to have the same kind of relationships, only they weren’t out in the open about them.”

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Well, perhaps, but the idea that Americans are six years ahead of the French in anything comes as a shock to this fawning Francophile. And certainly not on the screen. Take John Travolta … please. Mr. Travolta was the biggest star in Hollywood creation after John Badham’s Saturday Night Fever (1977) and Randal Kleiser’s Grease (1978). Then came two casting disasters in a row, first as a 24-year-old plaything for 49-year-old Lily Tomlin as a bored Malibu man-eater in Jane Wagner’s Moment by Moment (1978). Mr. Travolta’s teenage fans stayed away from the movie in droves. James Bridges’ Urban Cowboy (1980), from a screenplay by Mr. Bridges and magazine writer Aaron Latham, was a more popular and more complex career-killer for Mr. Travolta. Not only was he out-machoed by Scott Glenn’s Marlboro Man panache as his rival for the luscious Debra Winger, but in the name of anti-star realism, he had to play a scene in which his boss in the oil fields chewed him out, and the Travolta character, like wage slaves everywhere, just stood and took it. Suddenly, Mr. Travolta’s stock had fallen, and his career would not regain its superstar footing until 14 years later in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994).

In this context, Leonardo DiCaprio, the current teenage fave, would be well advised to ignore Ms. Roüan’s insights into young men and older women, and stay away from any scripts that require him to be a plaything or even a loser of any kind. The days of The Basketball Diaries are over.

Ah, but the French have always been kinder and courtlier to their older actresses than have the pathologically youth-obsessed Americans. On the screen, at least, I cannot imagine an American movie, even one from Sundance, perhaps especially one from Sundance, that would allow an older woman to sink so low with unrequited desire only to rise again, literally and figuratively, after falling from a mythological cliff to the magically redemptive waters below.

Ms. Roüan’s Diane Clovier seems to have it all before she becomes hopelessly infatuated with Emilio (Boris Terral), an engineer with a casually seductive manner. She proceeds to neglect her adoring lawyer husband Philippe (Patrick Chesnais) and her two lovingly bewildered children during the affair. After the affair is terminated, she becomes virtually suicidal, but, ironically, her very suffering inspires one of her writers, François (Nils Tavernier), whom she has nurtured out of a deep depression, to finish his novel, dedicate it to her and proceed to assist her in her emotional rehabilitation. Only in a French movie, folks, would the completion of a novel share center stage with the end of an affair.

For his part, Philippe finds needed distraction in defending a neighbor, Madame Lepluche (Françoise Arnoul), who has murdered her husband of 43 years with a carving knife to his jugular in the midst of serving dinner. Philippe finds a parallel with his own marriage in that the housewife has endured her husband’s adulteries throughout their marriage. But when her husband finally suggested divorce, she snapped, and, in the process, blossomed as a woman for the first time. It is better to know, she assures Philippe, better to know and to endure. How wonderfully French, and how wonderful also is the lucid performance of a 66-year-old Ms. Arnoul, once the delectable morsel of sensuality in Jean Renoir’s French Cancan (Only the French Can) (1955) and Roger Vadim’s Sait-on jamais? (No Sun in Venice) (1957). As I said, I love the way the French love their older actresses.

A Fugitive With Half the Attitude

Stuart Baird’s U.S. Marshals , from a screenplay by John Pogue, based on the characters created by Roy Huggins, turns out to be a terminally brainless but remarkably painless attempt to prolong the media cash-ins on the publicity-driven miscarriage of justice in 1954 when Dr. Sam Sheppard was wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife, despite his claim that a bushy-haired intruder was responsible. Sheppard was convicted largely by newspaper headlines with “evidence” so ridiculously tainted that it would be laughed out of court in today’s beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt jury system. Actually, Sheppard was convicted more on the basis of an adulterous affair that gave him a plausible motive to lie about the intruder. Sheppard served 10 years in prison before the United States Supreme Court overturned the verdict because of the ravenous press coverage and the circuslike atmosphere of the trial, and ordered a retrial. Sheppard was acquitted in 1966 and died in 1970.

Those sensational events were given new life in a Roy Huggins television series from 1963 to 1967. Then, in 1993, Andrew Davis’ high-tech The Fugitive, with a screenplay by Jeb Stuart and David Twohy, and with Harrison Ford as Dr. Kimble and Tommy Lee Jones as Chief Deputy Marshal Sam Gerard, took off at the box office, solidifying Mr. Ford’s superstar status, and, in the process, winning an Oscar for Mr. Jones.

This brings us back to U.S. Marshals, which I have been trying to avoid for two paragraphs. The producers apparently decided that Mr. Jones, an unglamorous though sexy character-actor type, could carry an expensive action movie and much of the premise of the original Fugitive situation without Mr. Ford. Indeed, the focus shifts from Mr. Ford’s Jean Valjean to Mr. Jones’ Inspector Javert, if one is permitted to trace the pursued-pursuer plot back to Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.

Of course, Mr. Jones’ version of Inspector Javert has always been considerably softer than Victor Hugo’s. And, anyway, Mr. Ford’s Dr. Kimble couldn’t be resurrected for another pursuit by Chief Deputy Marshal Sam Gerard. So what’s the point of this half-assed, half-sequel, half-non-sequel to The Fugitive of 1993? Obviously, the producers were thinking of the astronomical grosses from Barry Sonnenfeld’s Men in Black, with Mr. Jones and Will Smith as two earthlings hunting space aliens. Get it? Mr. Jones is white and Mr. Smith is black, and both are loaded with “attitude,” which goes over big these days with teenage audiences. For some reason, the Jones-Smith combination couldn’t be repackaged, and so Wesley Snipes, a more versatile but less attitude-driven actor than Mr. Smith, was recruited for the innocent-man-on-the-run part.

When we first meet Mr. Snipes’ Mark Sheridan, he is driving a tow truck for a living, a far cry from Dr. Kimble’s upper-middle-class status as a physician. Almost immediately, he is involved in a horrendous special-effects extravaganza of an accident with a car driving the wrong way. After being hospitalized briefly, he is framed for two murders he allegedly committed in New York. Who is framing him and why?

Before we can think much about this perplexing question, the hapless Sheridan is transported on a plane full of convicts, with Marshal Sam Gerard aboard. My God! They’ve switched from The Fugitive to Con Air. When a convict is given permission to be taken to the bathroom, I yelled out to the guards, “You’ll be sorry!” I really did. I’m getting good at sniffing out the deceptions of bad guys. But I must say what happened next confused me more than ever, and even after the movie was over, I could not figure out exactly why what happened happened.

Mr. Snipes, unlike Mr. Ford in The Fugitive, gets to fondle all sorts of sophisticated weapons. Indeed, there is a bit of Mission: Impossible in the cat-and-mouse game, played to the hilt by Mr. Jones and Mr. Snipes. All that is lacking is wit, charm, humor and the slightest shred of credibility. But some of the stunt work is first-rate, and Mr. Jones and Mr. Snipes are at least competent enough to keep the movie from collapsing around them.

Poor Kate Nelligan and Irène Jacob have two of the most thankless female roles of the year so far, and they both deserve something more and considerably better. I don’t know what to say about Robert Downey Jr.’s John Royce without giving the plot away, but if you haven’t guessed his secret long before I did, you probably shouldn’t be wasting your time on this piece of imbecilic fun, and, anyway, if you go see the movie after I’ve warned you off it, I don’t care if you hate me. Still, as junk movies go, I’ve seen a lot worse than U.S. Marshals, and if that makes me a philistine, so be it.

The French Find Young Love in Post Coitum …  A Fugitive With Half the Attitude