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MOVIE REVIEW : Lelouch on Target With Romantic ‘Bandits’

Times Staff Writer

On a picture-book country estate in France, Verini, a devoted father, is teaching his little daughter how to fish. You can be sure that no movie that’s called “Bandits” (at the Royal) is going to let such an idyll last for long.

With jolting swiftness, Verini, who has agreed to fence a large cache of jewels stolen from Cartier, ends up serving a 10-year prison sentence. Nevertheless, he manages to send his daughter off to a posh Swiss private school.

As always, Claude Lelouch goes for broke with his romantic sensibility, his improvisational style and his passion for coincidence and symmetry. This time he’s on target with this heady tale of love--a devoted father’s love for his daughter and, later on, a young crook’s head-over-heels love for the daughter, now grown up.

“Bandits” recalls Lelouch’s greatest success, “A Man and a Woman,” in its ability to sweep past questions of credibility and sweet reason; for offering swoony French fatalism in the grand manner.

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Significantly, the film opens with the death of actor Jean Gabin on Nov. 15, 1976, and ends on its 10th anniversary. “Bandits” is an homage to Gabin, who was like Humphrey Bogart in his ability to suggest that his heroes lived by a code, regardless of which side of the law he happened to be on in a particular film.

“Without Gabin,” remarks Jean Yanne’s Verini, “gangsters are nothing.”

As Verini writes reams of letters to his maturing daughter, Marie-Sophie (Marie-Sophie L., Mme. Lelouch in private life), she is acquiring all the polish of a princess at her school, run by the elegant Helene Surgere. Indeed, Marie-Sophie grows into a regal beauty in the Grace Kelly tradition. She attracts an aristocratic Swiss as well as the tousle-haired “Mozart” (Patrick Bruel). (He’s acquired his nickname because he’s been a professional crook since the age of 5.)

Once again Lelouch concerns himself with ex-convicts; he identifies with their society rather than the mainstream to which he seems to feel an outsider.

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With his usual co-writer Pierre Uytterhoeven and composer Francis Lai, Lelouch has created a graceful entertainment with a provocative aura of moral ambiguity. “Bandits” is a souffle of a film, airy but tasty.


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