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A reporter and a woman... 20 years later

CANNES, France -- It may help if you pause a moment, just at the outset of this article, to hum a few bars of the theme from "A Man and a Woman."



The memories come flooding back: the 1960s, and going downtown to the little art theater where the movie played for more than a year, which wasn't bad for a sentimental French love story that sometimes seemed like notes for a Ford Mustang commercial.

If you remember the movie, you remember the lovers. Jean-Louis Trintignant, slight and intense, like Christiaan Barnard, only better. And Anouk Aimee, with the Jackie Kennedy hairstyle and dark glasses, and the mouth so generous that it could kiss you and laugh at your cleverness, both at the same time.

Here she comes now. My heart leaps up. We are sitting in a restaurant right on the beach at the Cannes Film Festival, and Anouk Aimee has arrived for lunch. She looks great. She's wearing a black-and-white checked suit, wide at the shoulders, narrow at the waist, with a big black fabric rose pinned over her right breast. She has the same hairstyle and the same dark glasses, and she tosses her hair back with the same impatient gesture. Indeed, they even joked about that in the new movie.

The name of the new movie, by the way, is "A Man and a Woman . . . 20 Years After." It is a sequel, starring the same actors, and directed by the same director, Claude Lelouch. It tells the story of what happened to Anne and Jean-Louis, the heroes of the first film.

Anne, who was a script girl 20 years ago, is now a film producer. Jean-Louis is a test driver and organizes road rallies. Anne decides to make a movie of their love story and contacts him again, and they start where they left off, with the slight complication that Jean-Louis has a 22-year-old girlfriend, who is played by Marie-Sophie Pochat.

In the restaurant on the beach, I leap up and hold Anouk Aimee's chair for her. She sits down and seems a little distracted.

"Can you move the umbrella?" she asks the waiter. It is one of those big beach umbrellas in a cement stand. He hauls it around on the other side of her, and now she is in shadow.

"Do you dislike the sun?" she is asked by a journalist.

"I love the sun," she says, "but there is a time and a place for everything."

I love movie star interviews. I listen to the questions and the answers, and I imagine the front-page headlines the next day: Anouk Aimee Loves Sun! She interrupts my reverie by asking what wine is being served. It is a Burgundy. She asks for a red Bordeaux. It is produced.

"After five minutes, I'm very nice," she says, "but just at the beginning, I live in panic. I have been publicizing this film for three days. I'm so tired, I can't speak English, I can't speak French. Maybe I can drink."

Just then, with a sudden BANG!, a waiter behind her dropped the copper lid of a giant chafing dish on the floor. Everyone jumped, and an efficient-looking man stepped out of the shadows and looked around for possible assassins.

"I've got a bodyguard, you know," Aimee confided, sipping her Bordeaux. "They talk about terrorists at this year's festival. I don't think so. But they insist."

"How is the wine?" a publicist asked her.

"Formidable," she said. "Where are you from?" she asked the journalist on her left.


"And you?"

"Chicago," I said.

"Chicago is like tonic for me," she said. "I was there once, five days, to publicize a perfume. I was so surprised by the city. It got a punch on me! Zing, zing! When we do `A Man and a Woman, 40 Years After,' I already told Lelouch, we are doing it in Chicago!"

The man from Toronto wasn't writing this down. "Did you suspect the original film would be so successful?" he asked.

"Nobody could have known, but when we were making it, we knew it was special. Do you mind if I get some food?"

She got up and went over to the cold buffet, which stretched for half a block of artichoke hearts, stuffed zucchinis, asparagus spears and giant cold prawns.

"What do you think?" asked my colleague from Toronto.

"You missed all her great quotes about Chicago," I said.

"I mean about her."

"One of the most beautiful women I have ever seen in my entire life," I said.

"Me, too," he said.

Anouk Aimee sat back down again with a plate filled with couscous, sardines, peppers, clams and tiny cherry tomatoes stuffed with baby peas in mayonnaise.

"When you were making this movie," I said, "did you draw on any experiences you have had with romances from 20 years ago, and how do you feel about them now?"

"I do not understand the question," she said.

"Did you have any love affairs 20 years ago that this movie made you think about again?" I asked.

"Ah!" she said. "You see! Why didn't you ask the question that way in the first place! No, we never had any love affairs, Lelouch or Trintignant or me. Not with each other, that is."

"But did you draw on any personal experiences?" I asked.

"No. I did see a man 20 years ago, if that is what you mean. But it has nothing to do with this film. Besides, in the film, what they feel after 20 years isn't love. It is passion. But now they have others in their life. She is living with a critic. He is living with his 22-year-old girlfriend. She loves him. He leaves her for me, who is a grandmother. It's passion."

At this point, perhaps I should explain something about the movie. Trintignant takes his young girlfriend along on a road rally through the Sahara, and when he tells her about Aimee, the girl slashes his tires, pours out all of their water, and says she would rather die of thirst than lose him. The movie has a great many more blistered lips and swollen tongues than you might expect, walking in.

"Why are there no passionate love scenes between you and Jean-Louis?" I asked.

"I don't know. Ask Claude. Maybe he thought we were too old." `Impossible," said the man from Toronto. "But there is a love scene between Jean-Louis and his young girlfriend."

"That is also Claude's friend," Aimee said.

"How so?" I asked.

"Marie-Sophie, who plays Jean-Louis's girlfriend, is the lady in Lelouch's life. They're not married. She's very young. Twenty-three. This is really her first adventure."

We all turned slightly in our seats and looked over at the next table, where Marie-Sophie was laughing in the sunshine.

"She is very young," I said.

"I love her, she is filled with life," Aimee said. "I started very young, you know. I was 13 when I began in the movies. I was walking in the street with my mother, and a director stopped us and asked if I would like to be in a movie. His name was Henri Calef. My parents had been actors, but not in that same world. My mother stopped when she was younger."

"Was your mother a beautiful woman?" I asked.

"Well, your mother is your mother, you know. It is hard to say. Then I was in movies directed by Marcel Carne and Jacques Prevert, who gave me my name, Aimee."

"It means `to love'?" I asked.

"It just means `love.' My first name, Anouk, was the name of the character I played in my first movie, and afterwards everybody just kept calling me Anouk. Prevert told me I needed a second name. When you're 40, he said, you'll feel silly with only one name."

"Like Miou-Miou," I said.

"Well," said Aimee, "at least she has the second `Miou.' I couldn't be `Anouk-Anouk,' I don't think."

"When did you become a star?" asked the correspondent from Toronto.

"Am I a star?" she asked. "I always say, once a star, always a star, even before you're a star. If you see what I mean."

"Precisely," he said.

"I didn't choose. I took it all for granted. My luxury is, I only do films I like. If I don't work, who cares?"

"Is acting hard for you?"

"Why? Do you find it hard to watch me?"

"Do you still make a lot of movies?"

"What do you mean, still?"

She laughed, and smoothed back her glossy black hair, and a ring on her left hand caught her eye.

"Look at this ring that someone gave me yesterday," she said. It was a simple silver ring of a cat chasing its tail around her finger. "I love animals," she said. "I have a lot of cats and dogs. I don't say how many."

Bang! Another copper lid hit the deck. This time the bodyguard hardly looked up from his cold crabmeat.

"Did you go back and look at the original `Man and a Woman' before you made this film?"

"I never look at my films. I don't have that side of myself. What do you call it? Navel-gazing?"

"Looking at your own navel?"

"We have a word for it. Marie-Sophie! How do you spell it? Nombrilisme. Looking at your own navel."

"Narcissism?" asked the man from Toronto.

"Different than that," she said. "It's hard to say."

"How many cats and dogs did you say you have?"

"I didn't say. I have three dogs and many cats. I have a Labrador, a boxer, and a horrible mongrel who is so ugly I cannot tell you. He went under a car and I saved him and he adores me. But of course dogs adore us. Cats are different. They are the past and they are the future. A cat can live without you. But when a cat loves you, he can't

live without you."

"Maybe there should be a movie about that."

"Let me tell you, if there were, it would be about love. This much I know about love: When a cat chooses to love you, that's love."




Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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