Jeanne Moreau looks for even greener pastures in The Lovers (1958) and she is off to the races with the first likely candidate that happens by.
(NOTE: This is something of a recap so be advised that there are spoilers within. This story was so crazy, I just had to dish the dirt.)
Her Jeanne Tournier is mired-down in pastoral France, as far from Paris and the Riviera as a draft horse could pull a plow. She is mired-down, as well, in a marriage to a newspaper printing press, for all the spice that union has to offer. Her ink-stained publisher husband has eyes only for the typeface and not even the pretty-faced assistant in his own plant. He doesn’t notice anything or just does not care, but here his very classy wife, Jeanne Moreau, has tired of the country life married to a country pumpkin. Cinderella, you say? Maybe, and she could even be an obscure and diluted precursor for Lisa Douglas’ (Eva Gabor) adoration of the penthouse view in Green Acres. I did not just go there. Profuse apologies, hopefully accepted. The Lovers is no television sitcom.
She is off to Paris with the frequency of a weekly newspaper to see her friend, who is footloose and fancy-free in the big City of Lights, as well as her polo pony-riding, side-dish who is somewhat of a zero himself. If our girl wants to do this thing right she needs to find a man of somewhat more action than loading a type-sheet or falling off the back of a horse. I’m exaggerating here, but not much. These men in her life are of such one dimensional, milquetoast excitement, and fuddy-duddy pizazz, that they must surely just be foils, by comparison, for what is to come.
So here he comes, on cue, zipping down the back roads of France in his beat up Citroen 2CV, that little French sheet-metal, putt-putt car, and symbolic counterpoint to her expensive, black, but broken-down, luxury machine. But this guy’s fascination is archaeology, so like the other lukewarm men of our girl’s life, this nerd may take a while to warm up, too, unless he is just another dud. He takes her home to her country manor house in the provinces and is lukewarmly embraced by the dully suspicious denizens and guests. They all settle in for dinner and an overnight stay, Jeanne, the new guy, her boring side-dish, her uninterested (he is interested in ancient mining, we overhear) husband and her girlfriend, the only one of this group with anything on the ball, and the house staff.
Night makes its inexorable fall, Jeanne Tournier can’t sleep, restless in all her affairs, archaeology-boy can’t sleep either, and surprise, surprise, Gomer, they meet up outside, under the moon, to the tune of crickets. Floundering around in a row boat under moonbeam dappled leaves leads to flopping around in bed in the manor house literally under the noses of all the residents, guests and staff. I’m not making fun of this film, because it is a very good one, indeed, but as I’m writing this, the full realization of what a silly, kept, and restless woman Jeanne Moreau plays in The Lovers, one who probably cannot be pleased this time either, has hit me like a farm-fresh hay bale. I knew it before, but cataloging it makes it clear for posterity, just ask archaeology-boy.
But I will say the romantic scenes with Ms. Moreau in the manor house throughout the night and into the morning are very compelling. So compelling I had to watch them again. Once again, Jeanne Moreau presents a very alluring and complex character, replete with beauty and desperation. The tiger within her repressed, neglected, country wife awakens with a resounding ferocity. And all it took was not even the right guy stumbling along with little more moxie in the affairs of love than a turnip, but that being said, much more moxie than the curiously diffident husband and erstwhile side-dish.
The sun comes up again the next morning in this film of surprises and the newly not betrothed couple split out the back door while everyone there watches them drive away. About the only reaction anyone can muster is to go back inside for breakfast after divining with all intellectual alacrity that their planned morning hunt will now be without two of the promised hunters. “More birds for us,” the husband and side-dish scream with joy. Not really. That line was stricken from the script for purposes of continuity and reality. You see, neither husband nor side-dish have neither screamed nor felt joy. (Neither nor, neither nor. This is a film brimming with the lukewarm neither, nor.) And certainly, they have never put the two together. That is for little girls and one of them just left.
The other one, the friend, is the only one in the group with any sense. Her superpowers are well evident when she stops the polo-playing, side-dish from intervening in the morning’s elopement with the mere words, “You are not her husband.” That sure put him in his whimpering, tail-between-the-legs place. The husband was even worse as he sprang to inaction with even less speed than the Rock of Gibraltar. As for archaeology-boy there is hope, at least Jeanne Tournier is hoping, that maybe he could let loose where the others only tightened-up. Still, not a mile or two down the road, the oh-what-have-I-done trepidation crosses the horrible, beauty-face of one Jeanne Moreau once again. And you get the idea that this has all happened before. After all, back at the farmhouse, the men who barely expressed a word at her elopement are as nonplussed as a pile of ground corn. Napoleon, for the love of God, can you once again pass through the Arc de Triomphe. Merci. I mean mercy.
The final scene of The Lovers shows our two, not so young, new lovers barreling along in the unsafe at speed 2CV, itself barely hanging together, under cotton-candy clouds of a surely French blue, black and white sky, right past a huge, beautiful, white draft horse chewing its breakfast in the field, oblivious to all merely human shenanigans. It is a beautiful image and the symbolism is left for you to ponder.