L’Appartement

It’s too complicated
★★★
☆
Released: 
1996
Director: 
Gilles Mimouni
Starring: 
Romane Bohringer, Vincent Cassel, Jean-Philippe Écoffey, Monica Bellucci
The Setup: 
Man blows off work in order to pursue a woman he lost two years prior.
Discussion: 

When I finished watching Wicker Park, the American remake of this movie, my primary impression was “I bet it all really worked in the French version.” I imagined that the French original would surround the proceedings with such a lush air of romance and fate that you’d be caught up, would smooth out the jagged edges of the story and tie the climax together better, and just, you know, be so FRENCH that the whole thing would really carry. Then, in the intervening months after watching Wicker Park, my feelings toward it grew warmer and warmer, until I finally broke down and bought this one, since I couldn’t find it for rent anywhere. Imagine my surprise when, ultimately, I liked Wicker Park better.

We begin with this song that will repeat at least three times during the movie: “It’s the same kind of woman… she’s the same to me.” We join Vincent Cassel as Max, buying a ring for his fiancée. He is shown three rings… the first is elegant, yet understated; the second is intensely beautiful, but dangerously sharp and cutting; the third is seemingly ordinary, but has an inner glow and luster. Wait a minute… are we talking about more than rings here?

Max is scheduled to fly to Japan for an important meeting, and meets some of his clients at a restaurant. His fiancée shows up and gives him a sleeping pill for the flight. He goes downstairs to the bathroom, and hears a woman’s voice on the phone. Recognizing it as that of his long-lost love, Lisa, he goes after her, but she is gone. He smells her familiar perfume in the phone booth, and finds an apartment key.

We now have a flashback—although it isn’t immediately apparent as one—that shows Max two years previously. He is watching a video featuring a beautiful woman, then sees that woman across the street. He follows her, seemingly all afternoon, until he is in an apartment across from hers, looking in. We have a short scene in the present day in which he sneaks into the apartment he found the key for, and recalls how he continued to follow the woman—this will turn out to be Lisa, played by Monica Bellucci—eventually met her, and they had this wonderful relationship. He suddenly wakes and it’s the next day. He has fallen asleep in the apartment, and missed his flight to Tokyo.

He borrows is friend Lucien’s car that night, to continue to look for Lisa. Lucien tells him to be sure to be back by seven, so he won’t be late for his date with his girlfriend Alice. Max loses track of time and returns the car around nine, refusing to so much as apologize to Lucien, instead just saying “What do you want me to say?” How about “I’m sorry, prick?” This put me a little off Max’s character. There’s a few more flashbacks that flesh out Max and Lisa’s relationship.

SPOILERS > > >
Max goes to the apartment, and hears someone come in. She is upset, runs to the window and is about to fling herself out, but he saves her. Then, surprise! It’s not Lisa. It’s a woman that looks very much like her, named Alice. After she adjusts to his being there, she wants him to stay; “It’s raining,” she says, “You’ll get soaked.” She seems a little possessive, and a little crazy—and she WAS just about to fling herself out a window—but Max decides to stay. That night Alice seduces him and they have sex. In the morning, she asks if she’ll see him that night, and he says yes.

Now we take up Alice’s perspective. She lived in the apartment across from Lisa, and watched the early stages of Max and Lisa’s relationship. One day Lisa walks along the sill lining the interior of their courtyard—there is brief excitement that she’s going to kill herself—but no, she’s just going over to meet Alice. So apparently Lisa takes having stalkers in stride, and makes a habit of just going right up and talking to them. She and Alice become friends. Then, two years ago, when as far as Max knew, Lisa left without a trace, we see that Lisa gave a note to Alice to give to him, explaining the situation. Obviously that note never made it to Max.

Meanwhile, in the present day, which becomes very hard to determine after a while, Alice is ditching dates to meet up with Max, who is still looking for Lisa. It’s a little satisfying to watch her shit a brick when she realizes that Max is Lucien’s friend and that Lisa is back in town. There’s a good scene where she in onstage in a Shakespeare production, sees Max with Lucien in the audience, turns her back, and suddenly rushes off the stage, ruining the entire production. There are also a few good scenes in which she asks Lucien “Did your friend find that woman?” and Lucien responds “He found some nutter,”—meaning HER.

So we start to head into the ending, which differs sharply from the American remake. Alice gives Max her diary, which explains the whole history of her obsession with him. She unceremoniously dumps Lucien and confesses to Lisa that she is a compulsive liar, and wants to stop lying. When Lisa asks what the situation is, Alice says “it’s too complicated,” at which point you in the audience might respond “I’ll Say!” Then Lisa goes to the apartment and is met by this married guy she was fooling around with [who I didn’t even mention, he’s barely in the movie]. He blows up the entire apartment and kills Lisa! Then Max is finally off to Japan [isn’t the meeting over by now?], and he meets Alice, on her way to Rome. They meet and embrace, because—and this was confusing from the movie, I had to have it explained to me—he fell in love with Alice when he read her diary d’obsession, and gave up on Lisa. Who he has been chasing for two years. Yup, just gives her up.

Then Alice goes to the bathroom or something, and in the meantime Max’s fiancée shows up and embraces him. Alice sees this, and appears to mentally snap. She turns away, and as she does, her image fades out. The end.

The ending of Wicker Park was obviously changed, because you can’t foist something as ephemeral on American audiences, can we? In that movie the Alice character [Alex] confesses, everyone realizes they’ve got a psycho on their hands, and the theatrical performance is transformed into a showy way for her to explain her perspective. The Max character runs off and meets up with Lisa, and they live happily ever after.

Also, in the American version much more is made of the sleeping pill, which I don’t think we see Cassel taking here. The diamonds appear, but not as an expression of the three kinds of women, more as a visual motif about how you can refract and view a story in a million different ways. Turns out Wicker Park follows this movie's pace almost exactly, although looking back I remembered the flashbacks detailing Max [Matt] and Lisa’s relationship occuring earlier, and the reveal of Alex as the psycho right at the end, making the climax a reveal of how all of this was manipulated by a third party. Even where it is, It has an odd and jarring effect on the film, as you’re watching one thing and all of a sudden the whole thing is about someone you’ve barely met. It can be a little alienating, but it’s one of the things that has resonance afterward, when you’re thinking about the film.

Now, back to this version. On the one hand, I liked that the characters were a little weirder and more ambiguous here, as their crazier behavior sat better within that context. So for example, when Max blows off his business trip, it seems like a big deal here, where in Wicker Park I kept thinking, “Doesn’t he need to go to work or something?” The difference here is that sometimes the characters were so odd that I started not to like them. Max being such an unapologetic prick to his friend after keeping his car and ruining his evening really put me off his character, and him dumping the woman he’s been pursuing for two years—for a total psycho, no less—was kind of the last straw. Josh Hartnett, in the remake, carried a better sense of being obsessed to the point of losing his grip, so his blowing off work and chasing after this elusive woman worked with his performance. There’s something also a little off about Lisa being so welcoming to the stalkers in her life, and often she seems annoyingly narcissistic. The one exception is Romane Bohringer as Alice, who does seem genuinely bonkers, having that slightly crazed needy look in her eye. Her lack of apology at the end really worked within the context of her character, as she knows what she’s done and she’s ruined other’s lives, and she’s like “Well, that’s the breaks.” Thing is, she’s crazy, she doesn’t need to apologize.

The same frustration eventually sets in with the writer / director. A perfect example is the sequence in which we are led to think that Lisa is going to kill herself, only to find that she was only going over to visit Alice. That leaves you feeling jerked around, and there’s a lot of little moments like that in the film, where you’re just kind of mentally tapping your foot in impatience. Another sequence that annoyed me is one in which Max and Lisa are right behind each other, but keep bending down or turning their heads at the crucial moment, never seeing each other. Okay, we get it, we’ve seen it before, and we feel jerked around.

Now, of course you get the thing about the three rings at the beginning, right? One is beautiful but inaccessible, etc.? Yup. Didn’t think I needed to tell you anything about that.
< < < SPOILERS END

Ultimately I was definitely glad to have seen it, but I SO did not need to buy it. I am, however, eager to watch Wicker Park again now [and did, and you can read my ludicrously-detailed analysis of the differences between the two films here], and am going to buy it at the used DVD store on the way home. I know I’m supposed to prefer the French version and ambiguity and the bizarre ending and all… but I just don’t. The American remake sure did tie up the ending a little too neatly and conventionally, and fell apart near the end, but the film itself remained haunting, and over time I really began to fondly recall my experience of watching it. Between the characters and the blind alleys this film takes us down, I had become indifferent to it by the end, and had no interest in puzzling it all out later.

In the end, I think the perfect version of this movie has yet to be made. And oh, HOW I would pay $1,000 to see Brian De Palma do it.

Should you watch it: 

It’s interesting, especially when watched in comparison with Wicker Park.

RELATED MOVIES:
WICKER PARK is the American remake of this film, and it’s pretty good, although it does go a lot further toward the conventional, and changes the ending.
L’APPARTEMENT ON WICKER PARK is my detailed, insightful and questionably pointless examination of the differences between original and remake.