Bernard-Henri Levy New Movie: A Bomb

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Posted by ArtNews on March 14, 1997 at 15:29:36:

"THE question arises: would Aristotle or Nietzsche have made good
movies? Of at the very least, would people have gone to see them?
Bernard-Henri Levy, philosopher novelist, political campaigner and
television intellectual par-excellence, has just written and direct-
ed his first feature film. The movie, Le Jouret La Nuit, would appear to
have everything going for it Alain Delon, heart-throb of the 1960s,
makes his first screen appearance for years. There is a cameo role for
Lauren Bacall.

The beautiful actress, Arielle Dombasle (who happens to
be the wife of the philosopher), spends most of the 110-minute running
time in the nude, as do the rest of the cast

Most usefully of all, Le Jour et La Nuit enjoyed an extraordinary positive,
pre-launch build-up in glossy French periodicals (thanks, it is
claimed, to the personal contacts of its director). It was a late entry in the
Berlin Film Festival last week (thanks to the personal intervention
of the director' s friends, including the former French culture minister
Jack Lang).

No matter. Le Jour et La Nuit has been an unmitigated critical disaster
and a complete box office flop. In its first week, it attracted 45,000
people - less than half the predicted number. Cinemas all over France
report scores of people leaving before the end, some after only 2O minutes.
Audiences at the Berlin festival howled with laughter when the
movie was shown last Monday; Le Jour et La Nuit, however, is not supposed
to be funny.

Liberation described it as a film about art, passion and politics.
Unfortunately, the newspaper concluded, it approaches these themes
With the subtlety of a bulldozer in a turnip field". Le Monde said the
movie ended with the perfect image: the cast borne aloft in a series of hot-
air balloons.

Levy, 48, universally known as BHL, once led a charmed existence,
moving effortlessly between philosophy, novel-writing and frequent
appearances on the interminable intellectual chat shows which occupy
late evenings on French TV It was the daddy of all these shows, Apostrophes,
which first made Levy's name when it hailed him as a "New
Philosopher" in 1977. His best known early work was ‘La Barbarie
a visage humain’. A genuinely skilful and provocative writer BHL
promoted personal liberty and castigated the flirtations with totalitarianism
of the post-war intellectual tradition in France. ("Nothing is
more terrifying than the call to purity. To dream of a perfect society is
the stuff of nightmares...") several years now he has been
getting on the nerves of people-and publications-who once admired his
writing and forgave him his open white shirts, floppy black hair and
film star looks, not to mention his 6lm star wife. His passionate but
sanctimonious defense of the Bosnian cause in the Balkan war annoyed
many on the right and left His first attempt at playwriting flopped.

On this occasion, he may have played into the hands of his enemies
by trying to be too clever. The Paris film critics were denied an advance
viewing of his film. Instead, he fixed up a series of adulatory pre-
views in magazines where he had high-level connections (six pages in
Paris Match, eight pages in Le Point). When the movie opened, the critics
were evidently determined to detest it, and were not disappointed.
Le Jour et La Nuit is the story of an ageing French writer (Delon)
who suffers a nervous breakdown and flees to Mexico, pursued by -
among others an actress (Dombasle) who wishes to star in the film
of his latest book. Assorted terrorists and the mysterious Sonia (Bacall)
stray across the screen from time to time. To summarize the critics: the
intended message (and there must be one) is swamped under naked
bodies and the excessive pouting of the director' s wife.

Both she and BHL reject all criticism and insist the movie is a masterpiece.
Ms Dombasle said: "as soon as one attempts something of importance,
people become hysterical. No matter. When we are all dead,
the film will live on."

Levy complained in an interview with Le Parisien that there had
been a 20-year conspiracy to do him down and a media
conspiracy to berate his movie.

Was it not rather presumptuous, the newspaper asked, to think he
could become a cinema director overnight?

It can be done. I still believe it can be done,"
BHL replied. "I continue to believe that Le Jour
et La Nuit is a beautiful film, which is a lot like me."

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