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Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Courting the Casanova (Love in the Afternoon)

Billy Wilder's salutation to his idol, Ernst Lubitsch, is a cleverly packaged romantic comedy with all the pretty trappings of Paris. High society soirees, elegant costumes, dashing men and attractive women. Add a dollop of the most witty repartee, dexterously contrived hilarious situations and intelligent humour and you have Love in the Afternoon. This is a celebration of magical Paris, the flamboyance of Gary Cooper, the warmth of Maurice Chevalier and the waif-like gorgeousness of Audrey Hepburn. 
I chanced upon this 1957 masterpiece while reading up on the Hepburn girl. I like calling her so because their is a kind of nubile innocence about her in all her films. Her elfin presence gives her a Cherubic air and when she talks it sounds like the childish prattle of a woman who is still a teenager. Her bob bounces around her sweet face, complementing her round slanted eyes and accentuating that ravishing jawline. Yes, I'm very fond of the cute Hepburn girl. Doubling my fascination for this woman is her fine British accent; she opens her mouth well and round when she talks, pronouncing each and every word like it should be. It's a joy listening to her prattle!

Love in the Afternoon pits the wispy Hepburn against the robust middle-aged Gary Cooper, in a romance that is so out-of-the-ordinary. A tad Mills & Boon-ish, but treated in such an off beat manner. It is funny, clever and has loads of intelligence. This is not mush for mush's sake. This romance is the depiction of the power game between between the sexes that ultimately is put to a rest because true love reigns supreme.
Claude Chavasse (Maurice Chavalier) is a famous private detective in Paris, always busy with the innumerable cases thrust on him by his clients. He noses out cases of illicit affairs, intrigues and playboys and hence, is reputed enough for his expertise. He is also the indulgent and loving father to Ariane (Hepburn), just 17, and a gifted Cello student. What Ariane also loves doing is prying into her father's files to read up on the tasty cases that keeps her father so busy. She finds them lipsmacking to say the least. While Claude tries to be stern with her regarding her being exposed to such a distasteful 'private library', Ariane sneaks up to the files whenever her father is not around. I love how Ariane puts her father's worries to rest with sweet talk and warm hugs and loads of 'Papa, I love you so much.'
The current case that Claude is working on concerns Monsieur X (John McGiver) looks and sounds as is her is always doped, but is rather funny in a loser-like way), his wife Madame X (Lise Bourdin) and the notorious American casanova, Frank Flanagan (Gary Cooper). Flanagan spends two weeks in Paris every year to fuel his escapes with gorgeous wives and women. This time his catch is Madame X, who meets him everyday at Suite 14 of The Ritz, taking advantage of the absence of her husband. But Monsieur X has put Claude on the chase and the clever detective has evidence that the 'foolish' husband could use. One day, Monsieur X comes to meet Claude to collect the evidence and declares that he is going to get inside Suite 14 of The Ritz at 10 in the night and shoot Flanagan. Claude is witty enough to ask Monsieur X some extra fees as after Flanagan is hot, his business would drastically fall!!
This piece of news is overheard by Ariane, who is instantly alarmed. She decides to save Flanagan as she is quite intrigued by this American playboy. In teh preceding scene, we see how she remarks about his height and his handsome demeanour, only to be told by her father that Flanagan is 'utterly no good'. 
She uses the help of her friend Michel (Van Doude) (who Claude thinks she is in love with), and sneaks into Suite 14 in the nick of time and warns Flanagan and his woman about Monsieur X's plan. Flanagan is quite taken aback by this 'thin girl's resourcefulness. Flanagan is saved and Ariane is adequately smitten now with the infamous Casanova. And strangely Flanagan too, finds her attractive than even the both the 'Swede twins' with whom he had had an escapade the year before. Now he wants to have dinner with Ariane, the name he still does not know. 
Ariane, too is infatuated and pulls one trick after another to not just fool Flanagan, she cleverly dupes her father every day to go meet Flanagan at his posh suite at 4 in the afternoon. While Claude thinks she has gone for her Cello classes, Ariane is busy igniting flames of passion in Flanagan's heart for her!
Sample the enterprise of Ariane. Realising that she would have to project herself as a Diva in comparison to the reputation of Flanagan. she cooks up mighty stories of having had the company of exotic men who even gave her expensive gifts. Nineteen men who absolutely adore her. When Flanagan tells her that he hates strings getting attached and prefers a cheerful adieu to maudlin ones, she too puts up a brave and chirpy front when its time to say goodbye to Flanagan after spending a lovely afternoon with him and the musical Gypsies.
But young Ariane is hopelessly in love with the playboy and despite her attempts at projecting herself as this non-committal and grown up woman, Ariane deep inside has her heart churning for the love of Frank Flanagan. It's hilarious how she on the pretext of practicing Cello unfailingly reads up on the exploits of Flanagan. She carefully freezes the flower she took as a gift from the man in the icebox. She conveniently wears a fur coat (it belongs to a client of her father's)  to evoke jealousy in Flanagan. She flaunts this coat and keeps reiterating to the Casanova that she received it as a gift from a paramour.
Innumerable escapades like this later, we see Flanagan perturbed by the fact that such a wisp of a girl would be surrounded by so many men so much. He is visibly displeased when Ariane shows off her anklet, nother gift from someone, and chirps about how she wears it when she is not wearing stockings. Slowly jealousy and insecurity is filling the insides of the always-in-control playboy! Is Ariane's job complete? Wait and watch...
While many would consider Hepburn and Cooper a misfit as a couple, I say it is necessary for the plot. The story is about a young girl's fascination, infatuation and then love for a man who has been there and done that. It is with her innocence and resourcefulness that she makes this man fall in love with her. While Flanagan is too experienced to wear his heart on his sleeves, Ariane, the youngster that she is, makes it too evident that she is madly in love with this beautiful stranger. She feels jealous when he talks to another woman on the phone and cleverly draws him towards her. Little tricks that spell magic from the word go!!
The ending is fantastic. Dangerously dangling towards a situation of unrequited love, Billy Wilder definitely cannot have his viewers go home dissatisfied. My only niggle is whether Flanagan seriously falls in love with Ariane, or does he pull her in the train out of pity! But nevertheless, watch this film, please do.
Cooper is smart, witty and in command. Maurice Chevalier is absolutely astounding in his performance as the detective father. But you will find your gaze focused on the pretty Audery Hepburn. She is spontaneous, bubbly, classy and resourceful, all put together. She makes mincemeat out of the Casanova with her clever ploys. In her case, this is not ensnaring the playboy. She delightfully makes him realise quality over quantity. In short, Hepburn makes Love in the Afternoon a deliciously hilarious treat for all afternoons...


  1. Mmmm. I have heard of Love in the Afternoon, but haven't got around to seeing it yet. Will certainly watch it now. Ah, and you've given me an idea for what film to review next on my blog! :-)

  2. @Dustedoff: Please watch it, you mustust. It's available on the net.
    But, you know what. I think these films have a select audience. Not everyone would appreciate them like you or I do. See, no comments till now! :( While my Hindi film reviews are read by much more people.
    So what? I just love watching these films and feel everyone should enjoy them. Like the film I saw yesterday. One of the most riveting thrillers ever!! Hurray to our love for so many kinds of films!!! :)

  3. Wow,you have now reviewed over 200 films.that's so great.Three coins in the fountain was your 200th one and i think you definitely deserve applause and appreciation.Cheers and hip,hip,hurray....

    Coming back to this film,i must say it's quite wonderful from what you have written[and this is only the second film that you have reviewed on your blog that i have not seen before you reviewed it] and i would love to watch it.Audrey Hepburn is my all time favorite but somehow i don't know why i missed this one.

  4. @Madmusic: Go ahead watch this one. I'm sure you'll like it. It's a sweet romance!

  5. Love Hepburn, love Gary Cooper, and love Billy Wilder. I think this was my third Hepburn film in a row (I watched Roman Holiday and Sabrina back-to-back!) back when I first fell in love with Audrey Hepburn. There is an elusive air of quality about her. Great review, Sharmi; makes me want to re-watch it, but where am I going to find the time? :(

    ps: I did warn you I was going to haunt your blog, did I not?

  6. @Anu: I'm loving all the haunting?!?! :)
    I saw this one on the net, some obscure Chinese or Japanese website. Search Love in the Afternoon on Google and it might throw up watch online options.
    Loved every bit of the film and Hepburn's childlike innocence!!