Writing about Claude Lelouch’s And Now Ladies & Gentlemen, I can’t get the breathy theme music to Lelouch’s 1966 Academy Award-winning ”A Man and a Woman” out of my head radio. This makes for some sweet, time-capsule movie reveries – vive les ’60s! – but also underscores the weaknesses of the filmmaker’s latest variation on the man-plus-woman-plus-violins formula he has worked over the years like Christopher Walken playing The Continental on ”SNL”: This man and woman are so silly, and their story of fated love so goopy, that I wonder whether Lelouch’s own head radio has drifted to static.
The director has said that the plot was influenced by a real English thief named Valentin who showed up at his door one day to repay money stolen a decade earlier – atonement following an operation for a brain tumor. The part where Jeremy Irons, as the fictional Valentin, robs a swanky (and disturbingly gullible) jewelry store disguised as a dowager styled like Quentin Crisp is, I’m guessing, a bit of cinematic dress-up, as is the parallel story that allows French chanteuse Patricia Kaas, in her movie acting debut, to play wan, tight-jawed Jane, a French chanteuse who is very triste because of a busted love affair.
The two meet in Morocco and form an instant bond over their shared propensity for floaty cotton shirts and for blacking out while a melody lingers on. In Valentin’s case, there’s that damned brain tumor. In Jane’s case, there’s something mystical to do with forgotten song lyrics, during which Kaas sings selections from her album ”Piano Bar.”
The Moroccan bits are gorgeous and heat-radiant, shot in Fez and the whitewashed fishing port of Essaouira; there’s also a loopy trash subplot featuring Claudia Cardinale as a bored, leathery Italian countess who keeps the local young gigolos employed, and whose own jewels go missing amid all the crooning and mooning. While Lelouch indulges his glossy fantasies, the ladies and gentlemen of the audience may hum their own tunes.