Ma femme est une actrice
*/**** Image A- Sound A Extras B
starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, Yvan Attal, Terence Stamp, Noémie Lvovsky
written and directed by Yvan Attal
by Walter Chaw Yvan (Yvan Attal) is a sports writer (Yvan Attal is an actor) married to Charlotte (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who is a movie star (Charlotte Gainsbourg is also an actor, like her mother Jane Birkin--who was married to musician Serge Gainsbourg). Yvan Attal's first film as writer-director, My Wife is an Actress (Ma femme est une actrice), is about--as its title would suggest--the somewhat predictable trials of being married to a successful actress. The film is not, however, as Attal will adamantly attest, autobiographical. This is evidenced by the fact that Terence Stamp plays an actor named "John" rather than an actor named "Terence." In a wholly unrelated story (that is sadly in the same film), Noémie Lvovsky plays Yvan's sister Nathalie, a woman demanding that her unborn son be circumcised upon delivery, much to the chagrin of her equally unpleasant husband Vincent (Laurent Bateau).
Without much in the way of resolution, and with characters that appear to be burlesques of Woody Allen's late gallery of increasingly insufferable neurotics, My Wife is an Actress shows Yvan somehow unused to years of people asking his wife for autographs, of maître d''s giving her special privileges, and of cops looking the other way--all presented as an attempt to portray the "universal" struggles of men married to more successful women. It then goes on to push Charlotte into the arms of boorish, misused John on the set of some pilot/stewardess flick, thus allowing Yvan to explore a controversial mystery like male sexual jealousy. (Diagnosis: it exists.)
Meanwhile, Nathalie and Vincent's constant ugly bickering over Jews and foreskins presents itself as some kind of off-colour and irritating parallel to the central couple: they representing a kind of normalcy, Yvan and Charlotte the more white collar fable of kinds of involuntary castration. When the inevitable rapprochements occur (as they must given the rigid romantic-comedy structure to which the film adheres), they occur with little respect for plausibility. The film doesn't even actually offer much in the way of explanation for its conclusion save for the fact that the clock is ticking and romantic-comedies generally only run about 100 minutes.
The extent to which My Wife is an Actress is a generally joyless exercise pales in comparison to the level of self-love required to bring a tale so clearly narcissistic to the screen, all dressed up as it is in the accoutrements of commonality and whimsy. Gainsbourg is vital and attractive, but the Griffin Dunne-esque Attal comes across first as unreasonable towards his wife, then entirely undeserving of her desire and forgiveness. The Jewish subplot is not so much farcical as sour in light of recent revelations about the anti-Semitism of the French following the flap around Woody Allen's comments at Cannes and the unfortunate results of the country's presidential election, and the picture's scenes of strife tend toward the strident rather than the intended screwball. In other words, My Wife is an Actress is the deadliest of comedies, one that reveals itself early and often as too infatuated with its topic and too confident by far in its ability to touch a collective audience. Originally published: June 28, 2002.
by Bill Chambers Boasting of an above-average video transfer and soundtrack for a foreign film, Columbia TriStar's DVD release of My Wife is an Actress is also better supplemented than most French titles. The 1.85:1, anamorphic widescreen transfer lacks the PAL conversion artifacts that have marred such otherwise stellar North American presentations of Gallic imports as Time Out (L'Emploi du temps), though the image is somewhat oversaturated all the same. Contrast and shadow detail are more than adequate, and there is a pleasant sheen of grain. Audio is a surprisingly boisterous 5.1 Dolby Digital mix (in French with optional English subs), with much support lent to two instances of The Clash's "London Calling" and some fierce panning and subwoofer effects in high-octane shots of trains coming and leaving.
Extras include a relatively self-effacing, English-subtitled French commentary from director Yvan Attal, who calls movies "a souvenir," cringes during one shot because all he can concentrate on is the shadow of a boom mike, and expresses a fondness for zoom lenses that he says is not shared by his peers, nor was it by the crew of My Wife is an Actress. (For more with Attal and star Charlotte Gainsbourg, see FILM FREAK CENTRAL's own interview with the pair.) There are also four outtakes mislabelled "Deleted Scenes," two of which feature obnoxious sex gags (a restaurant that serves up a single prostitute to a revolving clientele, for instance) bordering on the grotesque, and a refreshing 19-minute making-of from Laurent Goldztejn that finds Gainsbourg smoking and imbibing alcohol between set-ups, something an American actress would never do in camera-range. It's also the only documentary I can recall seeing wherein the star's stand-in is interviewed. Originally published: January 4, 2003.