The French film La Discrete (1990), by Christian Vincent, is a revenge tale in which revenge becomes, first, methodical and dispassionate and, second, unimportant to the man avenging himself. This is Antoine, an aspiring writer whose paramour leaves him for another guy, whereupon Antoine remarks to a friend of his, a publisher, that he would wreak revenge if he knew how. The publisher explains how: Antoine can get even with the female sex in general–and become a published author to boot—if he will find a girl at random whom he will court, sleep with and then abandon, and concomitantly put the details of all this into a diary. The diary will be turned into a book.
A newspaper ad calling for a typist is what the blackguards use as bait to acquire a girl, and a student named Catherine is the one who comes along. At first revolted by Catherine’s near-plain visage, Antoine nevertheless initiates a romance with her and, yes, he sleeps with her. Not at all a bona fide woman-hater, however, the restless writer loses all desire to betray the girl, much to the publisher’s disgruntlement. And yet—though I will not elaborate on it—Catherine gets hurt, feels abandoned. The film is about how life inevitably moves on after plans are dropped, after evil is decided against, after scores no longer have to be settled. And it’s about loneliness and solitude: Catherine, it turns out, is consigned to isolation. Too, there is the theme of the malice which sometimes lurks behind loneliness: we see this in the publisher. Solitude prevails whether scores are settled or not.
Christian Vincent directed with taste and shrewdness, and co-wrote the talky but intriguing script. He seems very surefooted with actors too. Fabrice Luchini gives Antoine a perfect intellectual glitter and seductive extroversion. Catherine is made appealing, and this despite a certain self-effacement, by young Judith Henry. Maurice Garrel fills the bill, with virile sobriety, as the publisher. Once again we feel like celebrating French acting as much as we have celebrated British acting.
(In French with English subtitles)