Valentin Valentin (Jeremy Irons) is a master of disguise and a crafty jewel thief working his crimes in London and Paris. Jane Lester (Patricia Kaas) is a lounge singer working in Paris and struggling in her relationship with an unfaithful trumpet player. What do these two different people have in common? They both suffer from blackouts and end up in Morocco at the same time where they each seek a cure to their ailment. But, Jane takes the mystical path and Valentin the traditional in director Claude Lelouch's "And Now, Ladies and Gentleman."
Although the title is a bit off-putting and there are too many "movies" contained in "And Now, Ladies and Gentlemen," I like the core story of the relationship between Valentin and Jane. One element stands out most in the film - Patricia Kaas is captivating as lounge singer Jane, both as the fine singer of multi-language standards and with her chemistry onscreen. The actress shows her character's faith in the spirit world as she seeks out the treatment of a witch for her malady then makes a pilgrimage to the grave of a famous shaman, Lolla Chafia, dead for some 150 years.
Jeremy Irons gets the chance to play multiple characters as her robs various exclusive jewelry store posing as a police inspector, an octogenarian, a dowager lady and a guitar-playing hippy. The actor pulls off the Alec Guinness-like performances with a capability that makes it all look easy. Irons is looking a bit worn by time these days but is capable of delivering a fully developed and sympathetic character in Valentin. In the twilight of his career he has dreams of paying back those he robbed and the sequences are amusing to watch. The romance between Val and Jane is mature and does not suffer from the age difference between the two.
The screenplay by Lelouch and Pierre Leroux should have stuck with the sometime surreal love story between Valentin and Jane. But, they include a relationship between the thief and a jewelry shop assistant, Françoise (Alessandra Martinez) who helped him with one of his crimes; a wealthy yachtsman, Thierry (Thierry Lhermitte), who sells Valentin a racing boat and harbors a crush on Françoise; and an extended "To Catch a Thief" sequence where a wealthy woman, Madame Falconetti (Claudia Cardinale, almost unrecognized - she did not age well), is robbed and Valentin is the prime suspect, a la Cary Grant. There is simply too much going on to allow "And Now, Ladies and Gentlemen" to find its level and stick with it. (BTW, "Ladies and Gentlemen" is the name of Valentin's yacht.)
The film looks gorgeous with Pierre-William Glenn's cameras capturing the stark beauty of the Moroccan desert scenes and the freedom of the sea as Val begins his lone journey around the world, but ends up in western Africa after yet another blackout. Costume (by Pierre Bachir), especially in the Africa sequences, is light, cool and breezy.
If "And Now, Ladies and Gentlemen" were more judicially constructed and less busy with its many stories it could have been a better film. The numerous side stories detract from the main relationship between Val and Jane. It is a remarkable debut for Patricia Kaas, though. I give it a B-.
Jane Lester (newcomer Patricia Kaas) is a French chanteuse found driving in circles by the gendarmes after leaving a love triangle. Valentin Valentin (Jeremy Irons, "The Time Machine") is an English jewel thief found dazed in Morocco after leaving his mistress Françoise (Alessandra Martines) to sail around the world. In this exotic locale these two intermittent amnesiacs are drawn together in director Claude Lelouch's ("September 11," "A Man and a Woman") "And Now...Ladies and Gentlemen."
Cursed with a clumsy title (Valentin's new boat is named "Ladies and Gentlemen," a phrase Jane uses frequently during her act), Lelouch's oh so French, oh so romantic film delves into the mystery of memory and identity. The film's overall effect is dreamlike, although it bogs down somewhat during a second half that over-emphasizes a jewel theft subplot with too many red herrings.
Jane heads to Morocco for a month long singing engagement at a luxury hotel after discovering that the trumpeter she's in love with prefers the other singer in their act. She's in a state of confusion upon arrival after suffering another blackout, and visits Dr. Lamy (Jean-Marie Bigard) who prescribes pills ('blue like your eyes') and schedules her for a CAT scan. Valentine has lived for seven years with the Bulgari clerk who inadvertently assisted him with the theft of a million dollar estate piece. His frequent headaches and blackouts give him a wanderlust (or perhaps race against impending death), so he purchases a magnificent racing boat and leaves his mistress with its former owner Thierry (Thierry Lhermitte, "The Closet"). After he's pulled into a Moroccan port by a rescuing fishing boat, Valentin is taken to a pharmacist/physical (Jean-Marie Bigard again) who refers him to his twin brother Lamy who tells him of the French woman he has just seen with identical symptoms save one detail - Valentin sees jewelry shops during blackouts while Jane sees orchestras.
The two meet when Valentin follows Jane after she wanders away from a poolside performance, microphone in hand, but she orders him away. That night Madame Falconnetti (Claudia Cardinale, "Fitzcarraldo") is robbed of her jewels by a tall slim man wearing a mask who has scaled the wall into her hotel room. When Valentin is approached for questioning by the local police inspector (Amidou, "Spy Game") the next morning at the breakfast buffet, Jane swoops in to assure him that Valentin has spent the night with her...
Lelouch (who cowrote with Pierre Leroux) plays with time in the story of his twinned lovers, beginning in the middle, jumping backwards and forwards, even rewinding for "Roshamon" style replays and sidestepping into dreamland. Much of Jane's background is presented via tightly shot musical interludes, while Jeremy Irons gets to play at "Kinds Hearts and Coronets" with a series of comical thefts (both characters play act in their professions, just as they both leave their lover with another). Valentin cannot remember if he did steal Falconnetti's jewels and Jane describes the night of passion which began when he kissed her after following her that first night. Jane is convinced by a local voodoo woman to visit a local shrine to cure her condition and Valentin accompanies her on the arduous trek. Valentin's cell rings (Françoise) and he's anxiously tries to cover up. "I thought you were unique, but you're 2 like everyone else," Jane states, then enters a blackout which Valentin guides her out of (a lovely scene). "Do you remember me?" he asks - a phrase these two repeat often to each other.
The aging Irons is superb as Valentin - funny, weary, sexy and romantic. Targeting Bulgari shops in London and Paris as a CID inspector, feeble old man, aristocratic matriarch or long-haired hippy, Irons displays an impishness that's offset by his age and illness. Singer Kaas, whose "Piano Bar" album inspired Lelouch, makes a natural debut as the sad, aimless jazzy torch singer Jane. She has loads of chemistry with Irons and her renditions of such standards as Jacques Brel's "If You Go Away" add immeasurably to the film's lush romanticism. Other recognizable songs are by composer Michel Legrand ("The Umbrellas of Cherbourg"), who also provides original music. The film looks as good as it sounds. Cinematographer Pierre-William Glenn ("A Dry White Season") contrasts the gray- blues of London and the ocean with the golden sunlight of Morocco and its deserts, yet maintains an intimate scale within the distant locations.
Bigard and Amidou give jaunty support as the twin doctors and inspector, one laughingly laid back (twice), the other guard-dog alert and insistent. Nicholas Jones is a sporting straight man as a duped London jeweler. Martines also makes a mark as the young girl swept away by Valentin's outrageousness who becomes bitter when he won't settle down. Lelouch overindulges with Cardinale's screen time however, spending far too much time on her burglary case and the intricacies of her affair with a gigolo. Lelouch brings back incidental characters unnecessarily and introduces new ones through them that bring nothing to his film but lack of focus and a padded running time.
"And Now...Ladies and Gentlemen" could have been a much better movie had its director run a tighter ship, but it has as big and romantic a heart as the doubled name of its main character.
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