'The Accompanist' is a listless drama that ignores its dramatic setting

March 11, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

It doesn't take a genius to see that in the crazy world of World War II, the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans, which is the difficulty with "The Accompanist." The movie, which opens today at the Senator, is a hill of beans.

A plush French melodrama from Claude Miller, it's about people who live in expensive apartments and have refined tastes and are quite irritated by the hubbub the war is causing outside the window. I mean, how could it? How dare it? It's bad enough the Germans have absolutely no fashion sense, but it's become really hard to get brandy from the provinces.

The point of view on the happenings is that of a dreamy piano prodigy who is drawn into the comfy world of the collaborationist jet set in the Paris of 1942. Hungry and full of self-doubt, Sophie Vasseur (a dreary Romane Bohringer) is hired to play the piano for a charismatic soprano.

But there's a subtle game of seduction at play, and Sophie proves to be easy pickings for the glamorous and confident Irene Brice, the toast of le tout Nazi Paris. Irene (Elena Safonova) has a beautiful voice but, more important, a sense of cosmopolitan joie de vivre. She radiates a serene beauty, mesmerizing all who come before her. She coos prettily about being spared hardships while she quaffs champagne and eats oysters, and makes you love her all the same.

Her husband Charles (Richard Bohringer, Romane's father) is a dark and bristly fellow in double-breasted suits who is some kind of mysterious businessman. He has no trouble keeping madame in the swankiest digs in Paris and underwriting her singing career; the two of them hobnob happily with the boys in the jackboots and concertize in the glittery capitals of Fortress Europa.

There's no irony intended here. The director doesn't expect that we hate the Brices, but that we share Sophie's awe. Of course, Sophie is ultimately disillusioned, but on very peculiar grounds.

Is Sophie's ultimate disenchantment with this plummy little world patriotic? Is it at least political? Is it based on the most primitive of moral values, the awareness that the Germans, who were busy gassing 6 million people, were . . . bad? No, it's actually egotistical. Absorbed into the warmth, adored by Madame, Sophie yields quickly to her worst instincts. The movie, which is blind to larger moral issues, is built around dramatizing Sophie's little snit fits over the fact that Irene gets more attention than she does -- which, after all, is the arrangement she accepted, and which pays her off with a lifestyle endlessly more comfortable than her countrymen's.

Her love-hate thing for her employer takes on dreary new meaning as her discoveries escalate: Irene is secretly sleeping with a handsome young man who is purportedly in the Resistance, though the movie can't take the time to dramatize his activities, only the two-day growth of whiskers he sports. Oh those wacky French Resistance agents! The way they imitated Sonny Crockett was . . . too much!

Throughout, the film is listless. Sophie herself isn't interesting and her limited access to the drama around her reduces it to shadows and whispers. The entire film is too muted and refined for any real fun. It comes to turn upon the most lackadaisical escape from Occupied Europe on record -- again, purely for personal reasons -- which results in an equally feckless adventure in London.

Amid all the drama -- the world's fate, after all, hung in the balance -- it's extremely difficult to worry about the tiny triangle that "The Accompanist" documents, and nothing that director Miller does engages our sympathies. The movie's best line, in fact, is entirely coincidental to the story. It's a line overheard in a busy Paris train station as Sophie at last returns home shortly after the Liberation; it indicates the care and attention with which Miller has documented the Second World War. "Second Division," the loudspeaker intones, "report to the waiting room."

"The Accompanist"

Starring Richard Bohringer and Elena Safonova

Directed by Claude Miller

Released by Sony Pictures



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