'L'important c'est d'aimer': Film Review

Courtesy of Rialto Pictures
Schneider is magnificent in this cinematic curio by the late Polish director.

Romy Schneider stars in Andrzej Zulawski's 1975 film receiving the U.S. theatrical premiere of its original French-language version.

Those who’ve only seen late Polish director Andrzej Zulawski’s bizarre 1981 opus Possession may be surprised by the relative restraint of his 1975 film L’important c’est d’aimer. The original French-language version is only now receiving a debut U.S. theatrical engagement courtesy of the invaluable Rialto Pictures. The film, whose title translates as The Important Thing Is to Love, is a distinct oddity, to be sure. But, barring the occasional orgy scene that makes the one in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut seem demure, it lacks the baroque stylization and excesses that mark many of the other works by the helmer, who died last year. The ironic result is that the film, although fascinating, is also slightly boring.

The pic’s chief virtue is the luminous turn by Romy Schneider, who won the first-ever best actress Cesar Award for her performance (the actress would die seven years later at the young age of 43). Schneider plays the lead role of Nadine, an aging actress who’s reduced to appearing in lurid, soft-core porn B-movies — France, it seems, being just as unkind to its mature female performers as Hollywood. One day while filming a particularly intimate scene, she spies a freelance tabloid photographer, Servais (Fabio Testi), taking illicit pictures on the set.

After being ejected and beaten up by the film’s crew, Servais becomes obsessed with Nadine, resulting in a love triangle of the two of them and Nadine’s movie-obsessed husband (French pop singer Jacques Dutronc). In an effort to revive Nadine’s sagging career and get in her good graces, Servais borrows money from a gangster to fund a theater production of Richard III for her to star in opposite German actor Karl-Heinz. That Karl-Heinz is played by the legendarily bizarre Klaus Kinski tells you everything you need to know about the colorfully eccentric character, and the brief snippet of Kinski playing Richard makes you want to see the whole play.  

Although it features more than one altercation, L’important c’est d’aimer concentrates on emotional violence, which culminates in Nadine’s epic meltdown in a café after she and her husband break up. In this scene as in many others, Schneider lays herself bare both physically and emotionally with a compelling intensity that dwarfs the efforts of her male co-stars — Kinski excepted — whose handsomeness far exceeds their acting abilities.

The narratively diffuse film is beautifully photographed by Ricardo Aronovich, who provides endless close-ups of Schneider’s face (although, who’s complaining?). It also features a gorgeously lush score by French composer Georges Delarue that further amplifies the characters’ feverish emotional states.

Production companies: Albina Productions, Rizzoli Film, TIT Filmproducktion GMbH
Distributor: Rialto Pictures
Cast: Romy Schneider, Fabio Testi, Jacques Dutronc, Claude Dauphin, Roger Blin, Klaus Kinski
Director: Andrzej Zulawski
Screenwriters: Andrzej Zulawski, Christopher Frank
Producer: Albina du Boisrouvray
Director of photography: Ricardo Aronovich
Production designer: Jean-Pierre Kohut-Svelko
Editor: Christiane Lack
Costume designer: Catherine Leterrier
Composer: Georges Delerue

109 minutes