Totally Random Review: L’appartement (1996)

Cast: Vincent Cassel, Romane Bohringer, Monica Bellucci, Jean-Phillipe Ecoffey

Director: Giles Mimouni

Some movies stay with you long after the credits have stopped rolling, making you wonder what would have happened if things had turned out differently. Such is the case with L’appartement (or The Apartment). I first watched it more than 10 years ago and I remember being unable to accept the ending. It was so unjust, so unfair—what was the director thinking? And yet, the movie continued to linger at the back of my mind.

L’appartement is the story of Max (Vincent Cassel), a rising star in his company who is on the verge of getting married. One day, just as he is about to leave on a business trip for Tokyo, he hears the voice of his lost love, Lisa (Monica Bellucci), coming from a phone booth inside a café.

Two years ago, she had vanished without leaving a word despite the fact that they were due to leave for New York together. Entranced, he secretly cancels his trip and embarks on a search to find her, using the key that he finds in the phone booth. The clues that he uncovers eventually leads him to an apartment where he meets a mysterious woman who also happens to be called Lisa (Romane Bohringer).

Recently, I found a DVD of this movie and watching it again after all these years, I still think that what some of the characters do is unforgiveable and that the ending is tragic but you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way. Part mystery, part thriller, L’appartement is not so much a love story as it is a tale of duplicity and what happens when love festers into obsession and causes people to do terrible things. A masterful character study of motivations and frailties, it makes no apologies for the weaknesses of its characters. Everyone has a flaw that leads them to the inevitable conclusion. In the case of Bellucci’s character, it’s her capricious nature. As for Max, while he is capable of loving deeply, his affections are also easily swayed. He can’t, as Bohringer’s character tells him, say that he is not guilty of deceit and hypocrisy.

Beautifully shot with a haunting score by Peter Chase, L’appartement unfolds like a curio box to reveal hidden motivations and mirrors. The past and the present meld seamlessly into each other through the use of cleverly constructed flashbacks, each one revealing a tantalising morsel of information about the characters. Every step forward takes us two steps back into the past, and even then the movie continues to tease, offering different perspectives of each event, as if to say that there is no one way of looking at things.

L’appartement is one of those rare movies that stand up to the scrutiny of time.  Even after repeated viewings, it continues to draw you in, offering clues that you missed the first time around. It’s a mystery of the first order, and really, what greater mystery is there than that of what the heart holds?

Watch the trailer:

If you’d like to find out more about this movie, be sure to check out David N’s excellent post here (spoilers):

Good for a laugh: The New Yorker skewers Wicker Park, the 2004 US remake of L’appartement.

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