Irene -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
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NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

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CANNES -- It's hard to imagine a film more simple than Alain Cavalier's "Irene," yet one that cuts to an emotional core with such acuity. To dismiss this as a home movie would be a serious error, not only because its author is an accomplished filmmaker, but more important, Cavalier invites an audience participation that lets both him and his viewers struggle to understand a central figure who is completely absent.

"Irene" is a splendid film for any festival, but it's hard to imagine it will enjoy much theatrical life due to its special nature.

The subject is Cavalier's late wife, actress Irene Tunc, who died in a road accident in 1972. She is glimpsed briefly in one film clip and a few photos. Otherwise, the film ponders the void her survivor still feels years later.

Cavalier takes a lightweight video camera to the house where he last saw his wife take off in a car, too impatient to wait for her husband to come down from a bedroom. He takes it to her hometown of Lyon, to rooms they occupied and Paris streets where he lived before he married her.

He can't imagine casting someone to play her or recreating scenes from their marriage. Only Irene can be Irene. The portrait is often disturbing. Irene apparently had a troubled childhood in Lyon, but her husband can only guess what the cause may have been. She would talk of suicide. He wonders if he might even have wanted her dead. Her death, he confesses, taught him much.

Irene even invited his physical abuse; he could not supply it. Photos show a beautiful woman and much of her marriage to Cavalier, her second marriage, seems happy -- at least on the surface.

The point of view is always the camera itself. Cavalier shoots pages from his diaries before and after her death and reads to us from them. He shoots a painting that perfectly captures her look. He uses a carved watermelon and an imbedded egg to explain the difficulty of Irene's birth, which lead to her being sterile, clearly a traumatic situation she interpreted as her own failure.

Cavalier falls down while shooting on a Metro escalator and not only keeps the jumbled footage, he shows us the bruises on his face and hand. Cavalier is now an old man while his wife is forever young. He finally allows himself to ponder her life and death. He never actually says he misses her but then he doesn't need to.

Irene's absence is palpable. She's everywhere in these settings -- and she is nowhere. The impression she makes is fleeting, perhaps even ghostly. She is forever an enigma. "Irene" is a love poem to her memory.

Festival de Cannes -- Un Certain Regard

Sales: Pyramide International
Production companies: Pyramide Prods./Camera One
Director-photographer-editor: Alain Cavalier
In collaboration with: Francoise Widhoff
Producer: Michel Seydoux
No rating, 85 minutes