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With: Pierre Arditi, Sabine Azéma, Jean-Pierre Bacri, André Dussollier, Agnès Jaoui, Lambert Wilson, Jane Birkin
Written by: Jean-Pierre Bacri, Agnès Jaoui
Directed by: Alain Resnais
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 120
Date: 11/12/1997

Same Old Song (1997)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Juke Box Hero

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

When I saw Same Old Song (a.k.a. On connaît la chanson) at the 1999 San Francisco International Film Festival, it didn't have a distributor. Yet in France it was the biggest hit of master director Alain Resnais' career. Thankfully, a brave distributor came to the rescue and Same Old Song will be seen by the American public, if only a very small portion of them.

Resnais began as a director of films like the astounding Night and Fog (1955), a short documentary that was one of the first films to take an unflinching look at the results of the Holocaust. He then joined the fringes of the French New Wave and made Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) and Last Year at Marienbad (1961), which became arthouse favorites in the U.S., but were far from box office bonanzas. He worked slowly, completing something like thirteen feature films in five decades. Then came On connaît la chanson, which was a tribute to writer Dennis Potter (Pennies from Heaven and The Singing Detective).

Potter's characters often suddenly break into song, lip-synching over old records. Resnais refines this gimmick by choosing only selected lines and phrases instead of whole songs. The story involves a group of characters in Paris and their interwoven lives. Two of these are the comedy team Agnes Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri, who also wrote this script (as well as having written and starred in Une Air de Famille). From that description, one might expect a musical comedy. But though the songs help create an air of lightness, there's an effective bittersweet to the movie as well, lending it a certain weight.

The story develops six characters, men and women, who become involved with each other in various degrees. Some are deceptive, and some are entirely truthful. I won't get into specifics, as part of the pleasure of Same Old Song is becoming wrapped up in their lives and learning about them bit by bit. It helps that the movie is set in Paris, the most romantic of cities. So our expectations for romance are higher than they might be.

I suppose such light fare might be considered a sell-out for such a heavyweight as Resnais. But Same Old Song is as inventive and penetrating as Resnais' older movies. As critic Dave Kehr astutely pointed out, Same Old Song explores our relationship with pop culture, which is strangely symbiotic. We each seem to have absorbed a collection of songs that we can immediately call forth when our own experience fails us. It's a bit disturbing, even as it's funny and entertaining.

But it goes to show that in his middle seventies, Resnais is still going full-tilt. It's exciting that this has been his first huge hit as well. If only Americans would warm to it like the French did. I suspect, though, that most Americans have an aversion to what they consider "musicals" and will stay away. It's their loss. Same Old Song is a great movie.

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