Film Review: L'important c'est D'aimer

L’amour fou, as only the French can do it, gets a memorably wild workout in 'L'important c'est D'aimer.' It may not make much logical sense, but its sheer love of movies--and of love--is so commitedly over-the-top that who cares?
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Movie and theatre love of the most florid kind suffuses Andrzej Zulawski’s L’important c’est D’aimer. The 1975 film posits the unbearably luscious Romy Schneider as Nadine, the actress fulcrum of a love triangle between her charmingly fey, movie-mad husband Jacques (Jacques Dutronc) and Servais (Fabio Testi), a bottom-feeding paparazzo whom she meets when he takes some illicit photos of her filming a porno movie. Very naturally, Nadine redeems him through love. 

That’s the basic plot of this wild whirligig of a film, made in the ultra-permissive wake of Last Tango in Paris. L'important sets about serving up heaping helpings of sex, decadence, perversion and sundry other taboo pleasures with a lip-smacking libertine relish. It is all delirious fun, for in addition to all the orgies, drunken parties and impassioned (sometimes garishly violent) set-pieces, co-writers Zulawski and Christopher Frank, who also wrote the novel upon which it is based, populate the film with a memorable gallery of eccentrics, gleefully played by a host of brilliant, scenery-chomping character actors.

Chief among them is Klaus Kinski, who, as was always his over-the-top wont, makes his homosexual actor Karl-Heinz Zimmer the most flamboyantly outrageous queen imaginable, so out there that Clifton Webb in Laura and Helmut Berger in nearly every one of his films seem mild-mannered by comparison. As if his outré outfits, ambisexual boudoir antics and outsized hauteur aren't enough, he is also given the literally twisted role of the malevolent, hunchbacked Richard III to play opposite Nadine’s impassioned, virtuous Queen Anne. Especially in a hilariously disastrous waiting-for-the-reviews opening night scene, it’s a positive tonic to see Kinski happily hamming it up again in this film, which is only now receiving its American release despite Schneider’s performance earning her the very first César award for Best Actress.

Luminous does not begin to describe Schneider, in probably her most demanding role. She is Everywoman here: irresistibly seductive in a multitude of jaw-dropping closeups, mesmerizingly mysterious yet with the beautiful transparency of a child, positively oozing pure, rich emotion. Her obviously deeply smitten, far-gone director calls upon her to deliver a bewildering range of feeling—at one point, she’s a sexual supplicant on her knees begging her weak geek of a husband, “Fuck moi, fuck moi, fuck moi!” And damn, if she doesn’t carry it all off with searing courage and commitment, plus an uncanny warm, womanly humor which makes this performance the true crown of her career, cut short by her tragic suicide in 1982.

Of the three principals, Testi’s role is the least developed, but he brings his no-bad-angle handsomeness and a conflicted yet stalwart heroism that effectively anchors this madly flitting butterfly of a film. Dutronc, in a role which might have been written for Jean-Pierre Léaud, gives the best performance of a movie buff ever in the movies. Surrounded by his beloved books, posters and photos of beloved divas Louise Brooks, Olga Baclanova and Yvonne De Carlo, bartering with another memorabilia collector for a cherished vintage Miriam Hopkins still, he convincingly renders the peculiar obsessive nature of an ultimate film fanatic. He is never quite ever present in real life or there for his spouse, who just happens to be the most desirable woman in the world. His whimsical performance begins to attain real stature as you come to realize the delicate complexity of their marriage. By the end, he is a truly comprehensible and even tragic figure.

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