The Game is Over

At the Esquire

There are a couple of rumors circulating about The Game is Over: Roger Vadim has put one of those old Zola novels on film. Roger Vadim has made a fantastic nudie flick.

Sorry, French wonks and sports fans. The movie concerns a lady who takes one too many lovers, the fatal lover her stepson. That plot may be the plot of La Curee. But Vadim's treatment of the lady is highly un-Zolaesque. He doesn't condemn her as an unfortunate being who, because she slipped off the straight and narrow, can only slither around miserably. His treatment isn't an indictment. It's a celebration.

The heroine, Jane Fonda, has elected loving as her life pursuit. She devotes all her energies to it. She spends hours exercising, massaging, creaming, bathing, costuming. Vadim follows Miss Fonda with witty conscientiousness through these rites. But her soul is in her pursuit, and the director shows that without joking. At one point she tries to drown herself because she fears the stepson (Peter McEnery) has given her up. She rescues herself at the last moment and lies fur-coated on the stones. Water drips and glistens on the fur. The image is of an animal at once sleek and suffering.

The heroine is in agony. But her agony comes from loving, so she revels in it. Vadim plays up that perverseness. The woman has had a series of love affairs; she ought to be nonchalant about the habit by now. But no. She picks an impossible love, burns for him. Her insistence on extravagant loving is what Vadim is celebrating.

He never lets the celebration sink into earthiness. The movie's like a Greek myth where the protagonists are not garden-variety nymphs--they're Olympic deities. The director of photography, Claude Renoir, maintains the splendor. When Miss Fonda and McEnery make love within glass walls, he catches their undulating yellow reflection. When they make love in a grotto, he touches the French greenery with junglelike lushness. He creates out of Vadim's always bizarre locations (waterfall, soccer match, duck pond, crumbling villa, go-go costume party) a continuous paradise. The movie seems all grass and gold.

The cast fits perfectly. Jane Fonda embodies the best of two movie cultures. She's American perkiness and French sensuality. McEnery is what he should be -- a teddy bear, solid, but not quite sure of himself. Tina Marquad, the jeune fille he might marry, is just cheeky enough. Michel Piccoli as the husband is intractable and believable.