When not trying to find an apartment for difficult clients like Nicole (Laura Morante) and Dan (Lambert Wilson), Thierry (André Dussollier) tries to charm his alluring but saintly co-worker, Charlotte (Sabine Azéma), who gives him a tape of her favourite religious program - with some surprising contents. Meanwhile, his sister, Gaëlle (Isabelle Carré), is on a quest of her own to find the love of her life. With the help of Lionel (Pierre Arditi), a friendly bartender, she meets Dan (who is on a trial separation from Nicole) until Nicole turns up, inadvertently spoiling Dan's planned romantic meeting with Gaëlle. Lionel has hired Charlotte as a night nurse for his terminally sick and unbearably rude father, Arthur (Claude Rich). Charlotte eventually resorts to extremes to get Arthur to behave himself, but now everyone finds themselves at a new chapter of their lives.
Review by Louise Keller:
There is a different side to everyone in Alain Resnais' enigmatic film about six strangers whose Parisian lives randomly intersect. Ironically, those living together find it impossible to communicate with each other and find solace by spilling their most heartfelt thoughts and concerns to total strangers. Private fears in public places is the name of Alan Aykbourne's play on which Jean-Michel Ribes's screenplay is based and whose title probably reflects the film's essence more accurately. Although the film has a cinematic fluidity, greatly aided by its liquid music score in which its piano notes move tantalisingly up and down the keyboard, it is easy to imagine the subject matter in a theatrical environment.
What can we be except what we are, Pierre Arditi's barman Lionel philosophises? He is a sounding board for Lambert Wilson's Dan who finds it easy to confide in Lionel, as he takes comfort in a drink, but cannot communicate in any shape or form with his fiancée Nicole (Laura Morante). Lionel finds himself opening up to Sabine Azéma's bible-reading, pious Charlotte who cares part-time for his vile, insult (and plate) throwing invalid father. But there is much more to Charlotte than meets the eye, and her relationship with her real estate colleague Thierry (André Dussollier) provides some of the film's most amusing moments. 'If hell exists, it's burning within us,' she murmurs. There's a blossoming rapport between Dan and Thierry's sister Gaëlle (Isabelle Carré), but none of the relationships ignite. They are each as cold and as barren as the snow that falls softly between every intercourse.
It's a wonderful platform for a great ensemble cast; each character contributes equally to the whole. We can relate to everyone and sense his and her loneliness and isolation. There is an invisible chain of communication that connects the characters and once broken, impacts of everyone. A texture-filled glimpse at all the unexpectedness of human nature, Coeurs beats the drum for the complexity of relationships.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Alan Ayckbourne meets Alain Resnais ... normally that could be a satirical jibe at how a movie turns out. But it's the truth, and the mix is a downbeat romantic black comedy/drama. Ayckbourne's play is the starting point but there's hardly an English bone left in its body as legendary French filmmaker Resnais (with help from his French screen writer Jean-Michel Ribes) turns the play into a melancholy riff on love that promises a happy ending but doesn't deliver it. Hell, there are six characters all fumbling around love, and Resnais would find it boring to let them find it.
The tone of the film is resolutely French middle class, the characters are stubbornly hard headed and the main diversion is a video which contains some unexpected footage that does not compute with the religious program that is at its beginning. Perhaps there is too much made of this little device because it doesn't have a satisfactory resolution.
All the same, the characters are wonderful to behold, thanks to an A list cast that includes the ubiquitous Andre Dussolier, the lovely Laura Morante, the chameleon-like Lambert Wilson and the sweet Sabine Azéma. The film takes place in a snowy Paris, with snow falling throughout the action - even, once, during an intimate conversation, inside. Such is Resnais.... The scenes are separated by brief dissolves of snow falling, a metaphor perhaps for the winter of romance that the story reveals.
It's a minor film for Resnais (especially compared to his two masterpieces of modern cinema, Hiroshima Mon Amour  and Last Year in Marienbad ) but it still shows his impeccable craftsmanship and his devotion to the sad side of life. The one thing that escapes him here is an emotional connection with the characters, so we just can't get deeply involved in their plight.
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Private Fears in Public Places
CAST: Sabine Azema, Lambert Wilson, Andre Dussolier, Pierre Arditi, Laura Morante, Isabelle Carre,
VOICES: Claude Rich
PRODUCER: Bruno Pesery
DIRECTOR: Alain Resnais
SCRIPT: Jean-Michel Ribes (play by Alan Ayckbourne)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Eric Gautier
EDITOR: Herve de Luze
MUSIC: Mark Snow
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jacques Solnier, Solange Zeitoun
RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sharmill Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 6, 2007