Writer-director Benoit Jacquot has made 10 feature films since 1975. Some consider him to be an heir to the Truffaut wing of early '60s French new wave, someone who combines an offhanded approach with an abiding compassion for his central characters. But he remained little known in the U.S. until the release of his 1995 film, A Single Girl. This small gem took place mainly in real time and followed a beleaguered young woman as she coped with a personal crisis and a dehumanizing job in a semi-luxury hotel.
Prompted no doubt by Girl's art-circuit success, Jacquot's earlier The Disenchanted (1990) is now making its American debut. While it's the lesser of the two films, it confirms one's impression of the director as an original stylist who specializes in observational drama, the moment-by-moment registration of generally small fluctuations in mood. Its main character is another young girl, Beth (Judith Godreche), again negotiating one of life's complicated crossroads.
Her boyfriend (Malcolm Conradt) has urged her, as a test of her love, to sleep with the ugliest man she can find. This turns out to be a little plot blip that goes nowhere. She meets an older man (Marcel Bozonnet) , a writer who keeps a drawer full of pocket knives and makes oblique references to a dark past. He exudes the kind of grubby world-weariness which appeals to her evolving feelings of discontent, but all they do is talk. Her ailing mother (Therese Liotard), no longer able to satisfy the family's aptly named benefactor Sugardad (Yvan Desny), is asking her to start supplying the sexual favors. Beth accepts this with a too-easy nonchalance.
To add heft to this catalog of empty events, Jacquot has devised a scene where Beth is in school giving an oral report on the poet Rimbaud. His disenchantment was of near-mythic proportions, and Beth obviously identifies with him. But like so much in the film, the scene doesn't quite hit the telling note, doesn't resonate and seems merely pretentious. Jacquot is rarely less than interesting and one looks forward to seeing the rest of his oeuvre.
But unlike The Single Girl, which was a protracted but coherent character sketch, The Disenchanted seems, in the end, merely sketchy.
Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for the Metro Times. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.