The Apartment

Year: 1996
Production Co: Cecchi Gori Group Tiger Cinematografica
Director: Gilles Mimouni
Writer: Gilles Mimouni
Cast: Vincent Cassell, Monica Bellucci, Romane Bohringer

No, it's not the Billy Wilder romantic screwball comedy from the 60s, it's a confusing French romantic drama from the mid 90s that's aged terribly.

The first reason it's aged terribly is technical. Obviously it was the pre-digital era, but plenty of other 90s films still look good on screens. There's a mysteriously hazy sheen in the film stock that I don't think is intended to make Paris look woozily romantic, it's just poor quality.

The other reason is from the viewpoint of gender politics a few decades into the 21st century. The hero, Max (Vincent Cassell, looking like a teenager) is a skeezy young art student when he sees Lisa (Monica Bellucci) and falls in love with her at a glance.

Instead of going up to her and introducing himself or doing something similarly socially acceptable, Max instead follows her all over town like a kidnapper with a bottle of chloroform in his pocket. It put me off him immediately.

But that's all later, in a flashback. We start in the present day when he's happily married to another woman, living a comfortable life and working in a successful business, about to leave for a trip to Tokyo that will write his ticket for years to come.

But while he's meeting with the new clients in a cafe in Paris, he's certain he sees Lisa, the woman he once loved, storming out after overhearing her on the phone having an argument with a lover.

He races after her but doesn't catch her, but it gets him so riled up he cancels his trip at the last minute (unbeknown to his wife), staying in Paris to try and find her.

Years before, as we see in one of the many flashbacks, he and Lisa did meet and fall in love, but it fell apart and he moved away, deciding to pursue the more bourgeois life he now leads when he returned to France a few years later.

Through some (also creepy) amateur sleuthing he finds out where Lisa lives, letting himself (excessively creepy) inside and hiding in the closet when he hears her come home (supremely fucking creepy). But when Lisa comes in and Max reveals himself, it instead turns out to be another woman.

She's actually Alice, who we learn – though more flashbacks, and they get more convoluted all the time – that she became friends with Lisa around the time she and Max broke up, that she was mousy and boyish but remade herself in her beautiful friend's image (also creepy) in order to win Max's love, who she'd fallen in love with.

There's also Lisa's current boyfriend Daniel, a married man who might have killed his wife to clear the way to being with her, and Max's friend Lucien, who Alice is actually in a relationship with, all thrown into the melting pot.

I'm not as familiar with Shakespeare as many are, so I didn't know this was all supposed to be an allusion to A Midsummer Night's Dream, which Alice – a stage actress – is in the midst of performing in her current day story.

Knowing both that and the plot of Shakespeare's romantic romp a bit more intimately might have made the stalkery, rapey vibe of the whole thing a bit more palatable, and it also might have given the knot of lies, deceit, heartbreak and lust a bit more context. By the time we learn a bit more about who Alice is, after her and Max first fall into bed together, I just got lost.

At the very least it's a French film, so you get to enjoy a few glimpses of Gallic nymphets disrobing and shagging.

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