When beautiful people, locales and music meet

Times Staff Writer

The timing is just right for Claude Lelouch's sleek and sweeping "And Now Ladies & Gentlemen." It's been a long, long time since there's been a big romantic movie from Lelouch on local screens, and this picture is the perfect summer tonic for mature audiences looking for sophisticated escape. It's filled with beautiful people in gorgeous, exotic locales -- principally Morocco -- and interspersed in a classic Michel Legrand score are a clutch of great love songs, vintage international standards, including "My Man," "I Wish You Love," "What Now My Love," "La Mer" and "If You Go Away."

In its bold visual style, intricate structure and theme of the eternal quest for love, "And Now Ladies & Gentlemen" forms a romantic trilogy with Lelouch's memorable "A Man and a Woman" (1966) and "And Now My Love" (1975). When Lelouch is in top form, as he is here, he is a master at spinning out suspense, laced with humor, as to whether the would-be lovers are going to make it to a final fade-out clinch; with a very light touch, he also can also evoke a sense of mortality, of the fickleness of fate and even of spiritual longing.

In a flurry of the crosscutting, at which Lelouch is so skilled, he introduces Jeremy Irons' Valentin, a virtuoso jewel thief who would seem to be interested in knocking over only Bulgari shops, and to Jane (Patricia Kaas), a blond nightclub singer with striking angular features. Valentin's dream is to circle the world alone in a racing yacht; Jane feels devastated by losing a handsome trumpet player to another singer with whom she has formed a successful Paris nightclub act. Elaborate plot developments land both Valentin and Jane at the luxurious Hotel Jamai in Fez, where the rich, elegant -- and bored -- Countess Falconetti ( a witty Claudia Cardinale) stirs up lots of mischief. As it happens, both Valentin and Jane have been suffering from blackouts, which could be the result of the stress they have been experiencing, for Jane in particular, or they of course could be symptoms of something more serious.

Lelouch deftly interweaves numerous other characters and a couple of subplots, all of which amusingly effect the outcome of the story. Lelouch is such a careful and complicated plotter and so unafraid of coincidence that this and others of his films risk seeming contrived and schematic. But here, as in his previous successes, Lelouch develops an exciting tension between his convoluted and daring sense of structure and the passion and wisdom he brings to his storytelling.

He infuses "And Now Ladies & Gentleman" with a swooningly lyrical vision and manages to work his actors into its spirit, crucially Irons and Kaas, a popular French recording artist in her film debut. Irons and Kaas possess a gallantry and vulnerability that recalls not only the most appealing of Lelouch's own heroes and heroines but the enthralling lovers of cherished classic films. With "And Now Ladies & Gentlemen," Claude Lelouch has managed to be fresh and original while being true to his own romantic tradition.


'And Now Ladies & Gentleman'

MPAA rating: Rated PG-13 for momentary language.

Times guidelines: Adult fare suitable for mature older children.

Jeremy Irons...Valentin

Patricia Kaas...Jane Lester

Claudia Cardinale...Contessa Falconetti

Thierry Lhermitte...Thierry

Alessandra Martines...Francoise

A Paramount Classics release of a Claude Lelouch presentation of an Anglo-French co-production: L & G Productions Ltd., Films 13, Gemka, France 2 Cinema with the participation of Canal Plus. Director Claude Lelouch.

Producers Lelouch, Paul Hitchcock, Rick Senat. Executive producers Tania Zazulinsky, Jean-Paul de Vidas. Screenplay Lelouch; adaptation and dialogue by Lelouch, Pierre Leroux, Pierre Uytterhoeven.

Cinematographer Pierre-William Glenn. Editors Helene de Luze, Vanessa Baste. Music Michel Legrand. Lyrics Boris Bergman, Paul Ives. Costumes Pierre Bechir. Art director Johann George. In French and English, with English subtitles.

Exclusively at the ArcLight, Sunset Blvd. at Vine St., (323) 464-4226; Landmark Westside Pavilion Cinemas, 10800 West Pico Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 475-0202; UA Marketplace, 64 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 795-1386; and the Edwards South Coast Village 3, 1561 W. Sunflower Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 540-0594.

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