Friday July 25, 1997
Don't be taken in by the title of the glum French film "Diary of a Seducer." There's no ooh-la-la here but instead a solemn treatise on the psychology of love and desire inspired by existentialist philosopher Soren Kierkegaard's essay of the same name. It's writer-director Daniele Dubroux's notion that the essay actually does possess darkly magical powers for anyone who reads it.
The idea that the written word could have such impact in this electronic age is rather touching, but there's no magic in Dubroux's direction, which has no pace or rhythm. Plot developments kick in--about an hour into the picture--that might make you sit up and take notice, but it's awfully late in the game.
By the time the film is over, it's possible to see that Dubroux the writer has been on to something that could have worked, but that it's beyond the abilities of Dubroux the director to make it come alive on the screen.
(The film has been described as a comedy, but humor seems in short supply.)
This 1995 production marks the first starring role for Chiara Mastroianni, the lovely and talented daughter of the late Marcello Mastroianni and Catherine Deneuve. She plays Claire, a Paris university student who is not too interested in her major, which is psychology.
Claire lives with her mother (played by Dubroux), a hospital staff doctor on the night shift.
Somehow an unhandsome and pushy acquaintance (Mathieu Amalric) of Claire's has managed to get the mother and daughter to let him sleep on their couch. Nothing if not a pragmatist, he zeros in on the older woman when it becomes clear that he's not going to be able to seduce her daughter. (This substantial subplot seems extraneous.)
Along comes Gregoire (Melvil Poupaud), whose copy of Kierkegaard's essay on the aesthetics of seduction Claire borrows and reads without realizing its supposed dangers. A handsome, pale and thin philosophy student who takes Kierkegaard seriously, Gregoire makes no move toward Claire.
This, of course, makes Gregoire all the more attractive to her, with his classic romantic hero looks and moody personality. Gregoire lives with his glamorous but deranged grandmother (Micheline Presle) in a big dark old apartment in a rundown building. Claire is swiftly obsessed with Gregoire.
Dubroux's idea seems to be to show how all kinds of people can be seduced by their concept of love and the art of its pursuit rather than by love itself. She puts it across so heavy-handedly that her film too much of the time is a chore rather than a pleasure to watch, and her actors aren't as able to make as strong an impression as they should.
Leave it to Presle, still beautiful and dynamic after nearly 60 years before the camera, to shine brighter than anyone else.
Diary of a Seducer, 1997. Unrated. (Le Journal du Seducteur)Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times