Alice et Martin [1998]

At the age of 10, Martin is sent by his single mother (a tough, tender, joyful Carmen Maura) to live with his father, an industrialist with a wife and family of his own. Ten years later, the grown Martin (pretty, first-time actor Alexis Loret) flees his new home in a panic when his father dies, and he lives like a hermit in the hills before seeking out his brother (Mathieu Amalric) in Paris. When he meets Alice (the radiant Juliette Binoche), his brother's worldly, wary roommate, his puppy-dog obsessiveness and seductive but sincere tenderness slowly wins her over despite their age differences. But insular Martin keeps his own emotions wrapped up, even as he shoots to the top of modeling world, until his haunted past bursts out in a depression that threatens to consume him and Alice must reconnect him to his estranged family. André Téchiné has delivered some of the most delicate character pieces in recent French cinema, most notably the coming-of-age drama Wild Reeds. Alice and Martin, authored with help from Olivier Assayas (Irma Vep), never quite comes together as smoothly as his best work; it ricochets from lovely romantic flirtations to tortured psychodrama to family melodrama while Téchiné's oblique, reserved direction observes without penetrating the heart of the drama. Loret's Martin is more enigma than character, but Amalric shows the same shaggy, understated charm he displayed in Late August, Early September and Binoche brings a sensitivity and toughness to the emotionally scuffed Alice. Her radiant presence gives the film its moments of emotional frisson a discreet, subtle power. --Sean Axmaker

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