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  Stavisky French Fraud Fame
Year: 1974
Director: Alain Resnais
Stars: Jean-Paul Belmondo, François Périer, Anny Duperey, Michael Lonsdale, Roberto Bisacco, Claude Rich, Charles Boyer, Pierre Vernier, Marcel Cuvelier, Van Doude, Jacques Spessier, Michel Beaune, Maurice Jacquemont, Silvia Badescu, Gérard Depardieu
Genre: BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: The year is 1933 and the place is France, whose government has just granted asylum to the left wing politician Leon Trotsky (Yves Peneau) after his persecution in the Soviet Union, but persecution is beginning to be the state of politics in Europe. The businessman and theatre impresario Serge Stavisky (Jean-Paul Belmondo) carries on as usual, throwing money around like water, denying the social climate is growing darker by the day, but then his denial is part of his character as he plans his cabal of business leaders, not realising that his essentially fraudulent stock dealings are about to spell his downfall...

Stavisky was a real person, and incredibly at the time his biopic was released there was still such ill-feeling towards him that many in France were against a movie with him as the subject, and it failed at the box office there. It was certainly one of its director Alain Resnais' least idiosyncratic works as he busied himself with an elegantly authentic recreation of the period rather than playing any narrative tricks, although we do flashforward more frequently towards the end to the enquiry into the whole mess that Stavisky was responsible for.

Yet while there was little doubt that he was a conman of the highest order and the source of a lot of people losing a lot of money, not to mention a resulting riot that nearly caused a civil war if this is to be believed (although a staging of that was beyond this film's budget), Resnais conveys an odd sympathy for the man. It's as if compared to the sheer hell that France and the other European nations around it were about to go through, the director felt that Stavisky was not as bad as he was depicted by history, and should even be forgiven because of his immense personal charm. As portrayed by Belmondo at the height of his powers, you can almost agree to that.

Stavisky was Jewish, not that he was prepared to discuss it in public or even private very much, so with the rise of the fascists at the time he was held up as an example of how the Jews were corrupting society when his crimes were exposed. You could argue to Resnais that he did far more harm than good and perhaps was not as open to salvation as he was shown here, yet in these hands he becomes a dreamer who dreamed too big, with those he fooled out of countless francs verging on being willing victims because they liked Stavisky so much. One such victim is Baron Raoul, played by another hugely engaging star, Charles Boyer in his penultimate film before his suicide.

Raoul is entranced by Stavisky's lifestyle and his beautiful wife Arlette (Anny Duperey), but even with this lavish approach, the spectre of death hangs over our anti-hero. Arlette has recurring dreams of them both in a car careering out of control down a steep hill to their doom, and the shadow of what happened to his Russian father who killed himself is something forever playing on his mind, fearing that it could all come crashing down about his ears and he will end up the same, which is pretty much what happens. Mind you, Resnais sustains a mystery about what really happened to Stavisky to better emphasise the sinister dealings occuring in the highest echelons of power as the extreme right takes advantage of the foothold that will eventually lead to the Second World War, so as much as that is illustrated, you can understand why perhaps the man was not all bad, and even something of a victim himself. It's a troubling film that leaves you with mixed feelings. Music by Stephen Sondheim.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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