This is an unusual Walerian Borowczyk film in that it's almost completely devoid of his usual antiquarian fetishism and set in the present. Joe Dallesandro plays Sigismond Pons, an idyllically married man and father who must leave his beautiful wife (Mireille Audibert), their young son and comfortable country house to make a work-related trip into Paris, during which he becomes involved with a prostitute named Diana (Sylvia Kristel).
The situation is common, so much so that the film employs only enough dialogue to give the story the barest skin of exposition; it also takes what initially seems a lazy approach to creating mood and atmosphere by laying in source music played in its entirety (cost prohibitive today), some of the songs painfully obvious like 10CC's "I'm Not In Love", and some others distracting (Elton John's "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting," edited to eliminate Elton's voice). But when this tragic film ends, an extraordinary thing takes place: we realize it has somehow sunk its hooks in, and we understand that's the point, or at least one of them. It's a reflective film that finds its real immediacy only once it has entered the past tense. It provides us with just enough points of reference to attach ourselves, and the rest is so deliberately vacant that we fill in the blanks with ourselves, even with our mind's wanderings. The French title translates as "The Margin," which I imagine would more meaningfully translate to "On The Side," and it blossoms into fuller dimension once we have marginalized it. In some ways, this is a film about loneliness and the need to connect, how connecting to one person marginalizes our other relationships, and it also shows how we link our memories and past loves to songs that acquire a power quite apart from what they represent as recordings -- that old cliché, "the soundtrack of our lives."
Sylvia Kristel has said that making this film was the most memorable creative experience of her career; I'm not convinced that I saw her bringing more than usual to her performance, though she's lovely and believable as the mercenary who loses professional control of her emotions; it's possible this film, and her work in it, accrues more consciousness with repeat viewings. However, I thought Dallesandro, so often miscast and misplaced in his Italian films, was unusually well-cast here and surprisingly believable in all the shades of his character: professional, husband, lover, father and john. A surprising film I look forward to revisiting.
Viewed via DVD-R.