French extremes of the fascinating and boring; 'A simple Story'

Claude Sautet's "A Simple STory" is one of the contenders for this year's best-foreign-film Oscar. Sautet is a precise and painstaking director, and he has a special talent for manipulating many characters at once, exploring them as individuals and in relation to one another.

Unfortunately, though, "A Simple Story" is a dreary story. Its characters are impressively delineated; but having established them, Sautet uses them to very little effect. We sympathize with the woman who feels she must have an abortion and we commiserate with the man who can't hold onto his job, and we applaud his friends when they try to help him, and we rejoice when the woman decides to have a child after all. But we feel all these emotions vaguely and at a distance; the film is so bleached out, in terms of energy, that it never manages to reach out ant pull us into its universe.

Like such Sautet pictures as "The Things of Life" and "Vincent, Paul, Francois, and the Others," it is impeccably assembled. But a key ingredient is missing: involvement.

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