New York — `TOO Beautiful for You,'' a new import from France, is an unusual kind of love story. Gerard Depardieu, one of Europe's most popular stars, plays a businessman who has a successful career, a comfortable home, and a smart, beautiful wife. But one day he walks into his office and meets a new ``temp'' secretary who just started working for him. One look and he's dizzily in love, for reasons he can't begin to understand - since he's already contented with his wife, and she's easily the more glamorous of the two. His friends are just as baffled as he is. Yet he can't deny his feelings, which lead to so many emotional complications that it takes the whole movie to sort them out.
Known in France as ``Trop belle pour toi,'' the film was written and directed by Bertrand Blier, who has become one of Europe's most respected and talked-about filmmakers. His early films, such as ``Calmos'' and ``Going Places,'' struck me as wildly offensive, largely because their attitude toward women tended to be nasty and paranoid. I once asked Mr. Blier about this, and he said that he didn't think of himself as a sexist, although he acknowledged that many people have found such an inclination in his work.
In any case, the problem has ebbed in such movies as ``Get Out Your Handkerchiefs'' and ``Menag'e,'' which raise their own issues related to vulgarity and taste.
``Too Beautiful for You'' isn't exactly pristine in these areas, but it's far and away the most mature and restrained Blier work I've seen, and points him in a newly productive direction.
Much credit for the film's success comes from the vibrant performances of its actresses, who carry their own integrity with them. The wife is played by Carole Bouquet, whose credits include Luis Bunuel's classic ``That Obscure Object of Desire,'' and the deliciously plain girlfriend is portrayed by Josiane Balasko, who's a writer and filmmaker as well as a gifted comedienne.
In the pivotal male role, Mr. Depardieu plays equally well with both women; this is his fifth collaboration with Blier, and he knows how to blend seamlessly into the director's ensemble.
In fact, I give top honors for the movie's excellence to Blier and his filmmaking style. ``Too Beautiful for You'' is gorgeously photographed - by Philippe Rousellot, a talented cinematographer - and its camera movements have a strange, haunting rhythm that fascinated me from beginning to end. The movie has an offbeat screenplay, as well, which slides between the real and the not-quite-real; you never know what's going to happen next, or whether it will be realistic or dreamlike. There's also an evocative score, unexpectedly dominated by Franz Schubert - whose music plays such a strong part in creating the film's atmosphere that even the characters can't help commenting on it.
HAVING said all this, I must add that ``Too Beautiful for You'' is not a picture for every taste. It was the opening-night attraction at the most recent New York Film Festival - considered an honor for any movie - and to my surprise, quite a few people grumbled that they didn't like it at all, but found it slow and even boring at times. It also contains a bit of on-screen sex that may be too explicit for some spectators.
Still, the film has lots of admirers, and I predict it will be one of this season's most popular European visitors. It's also nice to see France making a comeback in American theaters after some comparatively dry years. ``Too Beautiful for You'' comes right after ``Camille Claudel,'' with Depardieu as the great sculptor Auguste Rodin, and next month will bring ``Monsieur Hire,'' an imaginatively filmed psychological mystery, with Michel Blanc and Sandrine Bonnaire giving first-rate performances.
All of which is good news for Americans seeking alternatives to ordinary Hollywood fare.