The tracking shot through the garden evokes a slasher movie, complete with shrieks coming from the cottage. The archeologist (Pierre Arditi) collapses painfully and is pronounced dead, then minutes later walks down the living room staircase: "Did I sleep long? My headache is gone." His live-in lover, a botanic researcher (Sabine Azéma), is distraught, relieved, inflamed with passion. In perfect health, Arditi questions his old self ("Why be resurrected to lead the same life?"), the couple plans to travel overseas, the event appears to have intensified their love. It's soon obvious that his mind is still in the otherworld -- he longs for the music and the landscape of his brief venture and withdraws into himself, to his beloved’s horror. "Dying is an art, like everything else," Plath’s Lady Lazarus says, Alain Resnais does it exceptionally well, indeed. Two married ministers (André Dussollier, Fanny Ardant) are on hand for contrast ("witnesses, not judges"), but the film is wholly structured as a pas de deux between the doomed lovers, where even ominously isolated images (a hornets' nest, a tomato stalk’s "tumor," a coin suspended between planes) become supernal incantations. Death as a surging stream to warm up to, eros and agape, precarious connection (an embrace in the dark, hands holding onto each other and then clasping at an empty pillow). Rhythmic punctuation comes by way of visions of unearthly snowfall, or, rather, specs traveling through blackness (at one crucial moment modulated to celestial blue), Hans Werner Henze’s score is a major element. "The Bible is for believers... I want to know!" Borzage as a modernist (Seventh Heaven, Living on Velvet) is the effect achieved by Resnais, who edits musically for an overwhelming treatise on the religiosity of romance, leaving Azéma in the void, "blissfully hopeful." Cinematography by Sacha Vierny. With Jean Dasté.
--- Fernando F. Croce