Triangular Title: Francois Truffaut’s Les Deux Anglaises Et Le Continent (1971) – Blu-ray review
A gorgeously made, refined companion piece to Jules Et Jim, yet stymied by the director’s faith in the material – yet another solipsistic love triangle. Yawn.
Les Deux Anglaises Et Le Continent
(Francois Truffaut, 1971)
Sometimes, it’s hard not to be a hostage to fortune. Having helped to popularise auteur theory, it was inevitable that Francois Truffaut would feel compelled to practice what he preached by returning to key themes and motifs. Most obviously, he did so in the recurring adventures of Antoine Doinel, but there’s also the diptych of love triangle dramas he made based on the semi-autobiographical novels of Henri-Pierre Roché.
So it was that, nearly a decade after the global success of Roché adaptation Jules Et Jim, Truffaut returned to the writer’s work by adapting Les Deux Anglaises Et Le Continent. That is a more honest title than the earlier story in that it admits there are three people in the equation, for ‘Le Contintent’ is Claude, the Frenchman besotted by Two English Girls (as the title is most commonly translated and truncated to). Yet, in Britain, sly distributors marketed it as Anne And Muriel, a more blatant attempt to show the bond with the earlier film. Then again, it’s impossible to ignore the connection, especially when Claude goes meta by fictionalising his encounters with the girls in a book called ‘Jerome Et Julien’.
That’s a rare joke in an otherwise sombre, serious film. Even though the characters are young, Les Deux Anglaises is very much the older, wiser, more reflective companion to the esprit of Jules Et Jim, befitting Truffaut’s shift from agent provocateur to the standard-bearer of French cinema. The technical show-offery is reduced to a minimum and less anachronistic: even the iris zooms are sedate, a smart way of conveying the early 20th century period of the story. There’s an elegiac elegance to proceedings, via a score by Georges Delerue at his loveliest and cinematography by Nestor Almendros whose colours – piercing yet not pronounced – have the intimacy of memory.
It’s just a shame that the story that accompanies such beauty doesn’t really warrant it. While less self-absorbed than Jules, Jim or Katherine, the trio here still deserve a kicking for their fatalistic inability to follow their hearts. Somewhere, there’s a sly joke here at the expense of cross-channel couplings, as English repression and French lust bleed into one another and leave everybody horny but haunted by unrequited love. Yet after two hours, it get infuriating. Regardless of the attempts to make grand literature out of this via Truffaut’s narration, the story is little more than a highbrow soap opera.
It’s all the more jarring because Truffaut – who could get effortlessly infectious performances elsewhere – never lets the actors lighten up. This sees Jean-Pierre Leaud (as Claude) at his most precious, shorn of Antoine Doinel’s cheekiness and replaced with a haughty self-regard that keeps emotional connection at bay. Stacey Tendeter is never more than the sum of her ridiculous character, an apparently Puritanic zeal hiding one of the daftest plot revelations you’ll ever see. Kika Markham offers the best antidote to the morose mood, her wryly observant style bringing nuance missing elsewhere. But a triangle needs three sides; one just isn’t enough.