At the Telepix through Nov. 12
Against the backdrop of Paris, where people seem more interesting anyway, the superb German film Mon Petit tells a love story--"sometimes funny, sometimes sad"--which is consistently wonderful to watch. From the moment director Helmut Kautner appears to introduce his audience to "out boy and girl" until he walks down the boulevard at the end, his masterful hand changes ordinary into unique, ennui into comedy, sex into lyricism, and Paris into the colors of Cezanne.
His lovers, a young Hungarian artist played by Horst Bucholz and an orphaned Parisienne played by Roney Schneider, meet in a public garden. They have passed each other before, but this time he stops to flirt with her as she sits reading poetry. Beside her on the bench nest three beautiful fat oranges, symbolizing the simple and good beauty of their meeting. she tells him that she has a big family, that she is very rich, that her chauffeur awaits, but to encourage him in spite of herself, she kisses him before she runs away--"only because you are so lonely."
Contrasting with this central love affair, a pair of ultra-sophisticated demi-mondaines cross "our boy and girl's" path, yawning at each other with remarks such as, "Is this your lighter that I found under my pillow, or does it belong to Jacques?" While these two sip cognac in a fancy burlesque, "our two" gulp coffee at a sidewalk cafe. Both women call their lovers "Mon Petit." When one Mon Petit loses his duck, Napoleon, the other Mon Petit wonders why anyone would bother to put a string around a duckling's neck. This dichotomy arises often enough to keep continuity, it adds tart to the essentially sweet story, but it never becomes oppressive.
Director Helmut Kautner's point is that loneliness and pride make communication well-nigh impossible between people. The seventeen-year-old girl feels she must invent rich relatives, fiancees, pipe dreams, in order to be loved, and these lies set up a terrible barrier between herself and the boy who would love her. He feels too proud to marry a rich girl when he is too poor to support even himself and a duck. Similarly, the married woman thinks she has to go on sleeping with her husband and her other lover so Jacques--soft, revolting Jacques--won't lose interest. Jacques cannot be really interested, because the money she thinks her greatest charm squashes his masculine ego. He covets an impoverished cigarette girl. All the time that Kautner emphasizes this self-made chasm, however, he seems to suggest that deceptions actually are inherent to allure. Hence the comedy--thus the tragedy.
While Mon Petit may play with reality, the audience remains aware that this is fiction, even surrealistic fiction. To heighten this effect, Kautner limits his palette so that orange (the oranges), black (the sophisticates), white (our boy and girl), and grey (the edifices of Paris) predominate. And, of course, the characters seem too attractive to be realistic. Horst Bucholz especially stands out as a sort of Jimmy Dean for the quality trade.
If fault is to be found, it lies in the rather contrived climax. But even this mars Mon Petit only superficially.