New DVD review: Resnais’ Coeurs (Private Fears in Public Places)
Coeurs is, for Resnais detractors, one of a long line of confusing domestic light comedies or dramas that Resnais has been engaged on since at least his Melo (1986). Confusing because these films seem to reject Resnais’ early, more political and seemingly more experimental work.
Careful examination (as with Resnais’ Pas sur la bouche) indicates the opposite. Coeurs begins and ends with failed real estate transactions. The first shot of the movie is an aerial zoom over Paris. We expect Paris to evoke history or politics or revolution or culture. Resnais negates these comforting illusions by ending his initial zoom into a small and badly remodeled condominium – the heart of this Paris is real estate speculation.
Resnais reminds us continuously that Paris is a nexus of transactions: most of the characters live within a realm where the most vulgar commerce dominates their lives, even though most of them openly dislike this reality. They dislike it so much that all have built pathetic comforting illusions: religion, alcohol, long-failed relationships, romantic illusions about Internet dating, TV shows and pornography.
Most commentators have focused on the obvious reality in the movie that almost all of the attempted relationships within the movie never really existed, except in fantasy. What is interesting is that many of the characters have come across bits of grandeur or nobility or truth, but the flawed nature of modern society does not allow them to pursue these discoveries.
For an aging real estate broker at the center of the film (played by Andre Dussolier seen above), this is symbolized by his gaze always turning towards the portrait of his 18th century solid bourgeoisie ancestor – when bourgeois status really was part of the Enlightenment and soon to become the stable foundation of society after the Revolution. Now, the bourgeoisie have fallen to the level of real estate hucksters and peddlers afloat in a sea of commercial fantasies and illusions (i.e. real estate hype over horribly remodeled random bits of real estate), rather than any actual production or sale of real goods.