DIRECTOR: Alain Resnais | WRITER: Jorge Semprún | CAST: Jean-Paul Belmondo, François Périer, Anny Duperey, Michael Lonsdale, Roberto Bisacco, Claude Rich, Charles Boyer, Pierre Vernier, Marcel Cuvelier, Gérard Depardieu | France
I’m having a hard time figuring out how to write about Stavisky… in a way that would make someone else think about watching it. I certainly didn’t like it the first time I saw it all those years ago, but it stuck in my memory for some reason. And on seeing it again yesterday I felt a bit lost, not sure what I felt about what I was seeing and hearing. Yes, it’s gorgeous to look at (every penny spent on those sets and costumes is visible) and Stephen Sondheim’s score is beautiful too, if a bit, I don’t know, odd in context. And the acting is great. (I don’t think I’ve ever seen Jean-Paul Belmondo quite this committed to acting his part; he’s not the jokey dope I’m so used to.) So I read up on the film and the history (my grasp of early 1930s French political history isn’t what it could be, sad to say) and watched it again today and I loved it although I think I’m still not quite getting it.
So…it’s about a flamboyant French con man of Russian-Jewish origins (which he hid) whose high-finance schemes came collapsing down on him in 1934 leading to deadly right-wing, explicitly anti-Semitic rioting and the collapse of the French government. Stavisky’s amoral shenanigans also included being the middleman between Spanish right-wingers the Swiss banks they used to launder money for their planned coup d’état in Spain which eventually led to the Spanish Civil War. So we’re talking Bernie Madoff but on a huge geopolitical scale. But Resnais doesn’t show us the ugly side, instead focussing on the shiny, sparkly exteriors of deluxe hotel suites and casinos, palatial estates and limousines, furs, diamonds the size of grapefruits. Oh, hell. Stavisky… is a great movie. See it. Charles Boyer is great in it too, as is the barely adult Gérard Depardieu in one of those scene-stealing tiny parts that people remember. Sondheim’s score is perfect: it’s too right, so right that its artificiality starts to nag at you.