Thursday, April 29, 2010


When I was talking about great film opening scenes a couple of months ago, I somehow overlooked Alain Corneau's marvellous 1990 film Tous Les Matins Du Monde, a meditation on the nature of music, based around imagined events in the young life of a great 17th century French court composer, Marin Marais. It's an exquisitely photographed and immaculately composed piece that has the lingering resonance of fable. I haven't seen it in nearly twenty years, but everyone I've recommended it to (classical musicians, usually) has been as enraptured by it as I was. And this is how it opens: Marin Marais, in advanced old age, is present at a rehearsal of one of his pieces by a court chamber group. Music and voices whirl around him as he slides into gloomy introspection and starts reminiscing about his experiences nearly fifty years before, when he was studying with the great master of the bass viol, Sainte Colombe. The scene is sustained for some minutes, and the camera throughout is holding a fairly tight close-up on Marin's ravaged, worldweary, white-painted face. It wouldn't work without an actor as compelling as GĂ©rard Depardieu. [The subtitles appear to be in Polish. Sorry about that.]

This in turn put me in mind of one of the great closing scenes of a film, in Stephen Frears' Dangerous Liaisons, where the Marquise de Merteuil, finally exposed for her wicked manipulation of others' love lives, is driven from the theatre in shame by the jeers of Parisian high society; returning to her boudoir, she gradually dissolves into silent tears; again, the camera keeps a tight close-up on her face as she slowly begins to remove her make-up. Not many other actresses could have pulled this off, but Glenn Close does it superbly.

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