An Alternative Guide to Great Movies: L’Apartement (1996)
PUBLISHED: 09:39 11 November 2017 | UPDATED: 09:39 11 November 2017
Movies that tell a good story and have engaging characters provide that all-important re-watch value necessary for a great film. Arts editor Andrew Clarke presents a series of idiosyncratic suggestions for movies which may entertain if you are in the mood for something different.
L’Apartement; dir: Gilles Mimouni; Starring: Vincent Cassel, Monica Bellucci, Sandrine Kiberlain Romane Bohringer; Cert: 15; (1996)
L’Appartement is as startling as it is seductive. It mesmerises you as it tells what appears to be a simple tale in a surprising and complex way. It turns a mundane tale of lost love and modern romance into a compelling story which wrong-foots you every step of the way.
As a storyteller, Mimouni flirts and teases the viewer with changes in time and settings that reveal themselves to be a labyrinth of half-truths. Yet, for all this deception, he never alienates his audience. On the contrary we remain hooked and even more curious to to know what happens next and how this strangely alluring tale will turn out.
It’s a startlingly confident debut. It is clear that he knows the story he wants to tell and the elaborate mis-direction and the smoke and mirrors involved is all part of the fun and works to draw his audience in deeper to this dark and strange world.
The film follows the intertwined lives of five people living in Paris. Max (Vincent Cassel) lies at the heart of the story. He is a man who loves pursuing and loving women. He would argue that his not unfaithful but his attention wanders. He is aware of his shortcomings and vows to grow up. He’s decided to accept responsibility and get married.
A jeweller presents Max with three prospective rings for his upcoming marriage to Muriel (Sandrine Kiberlain): the first is elegant, yet understated; the second is intensely beautiful, but dangerously sharp and cutting; the third is seemingly ordinary, but has an inner glow and lustre beneath the surface.
Unable to choose among them – and perhaps harbouring second thoughts over his engagement –Max defers his decision until after his business trip to Japan. During a brief stop at a local bar to meet the Japanese client, Max overhears a familiar voice at a telephone booth suggest that her lover, Daniel (Olivier Granier), had committed a murder for her. Max believes that it is the voice of his lost love, Lisa (Monica Bellucci), who, at a turning point in their relationship, inexplicably disappeared without a trace.
Still bearing the scars of their unresolved relationship, Max decides to surreptitiously postpone his trip in order to search for her. Ultimately, Max’s investigation leads him to an apartment, where he decides to wait for Lisa to return.
Later in the evening, a distraught young woman enters the apartment and stands by the open window, preparing to jump. Max succeeds in saving her life, but immediately realises that this second Lisa (Romane Bohringer) is not his former girlfriend. Her vulnerability touches Max, and he begins to develop an attachment towards her. But, the memory of the first Lisa continues to haunt him and he quickly finds himself embroiled in a game of cat and mouse that he can’t possibly escape.
Mimouni is an extraordinary film-maker. He manages to create a surreal work of great originality and yet, at the same time, manages to include tips of the hat to Alfred Hitchcock and the legendary Japanese film Rashomon.
Rashomon’s claim to fame was that this was the first film to replay the same pivotal scene a number of times throughout the movie and present the same sequence from the perspective of a number of different characters. Each time the scene is played through, the narrative – or our perception of the narrative – changes.
Mimouni does this same trick with L’Apartement. He also pays homage to Alfred Hitchcock with nods to sequences out of Vertigo, Rear Window and Strangers on a train. Max follows Daniel through town and observes him enter a flower shop (Vertigo); then a neighbour voyeuristically watches Lisa from an apartment across the street (Rear Window); finally Max attempts to retrieve Lisa’s house key from under a storm grating (Strangers on a Train).
These aren’t clunky tributes but fit seamlessly into the action – designed to be quiet, knowing nods to the master – and are cleverly incorporated into a bravura display of contemporary cinematic storytelling.
If the cinematography, editing and visual storytelling are extraordinary then Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci are equally spellbinding and create strange but sympathetic characters which anchor the whole tale.
One film reviewer at the time described this film as something only the French could make but I would add that it’s also something that we can all enjoy.