Caramels, Bonbons et Chocolats
"Paroles Paroles" by Dalida & Alain Delon (1973)
One of the most pleasurable movies I own is Alain Resnais’ romantic-musical comedy On Connaît La Chanson (1997), in which Resnais, as an homage to Dennis Potter, uses French pop songs that actors lip-sync to.
The movie deviates from the conventions of the musical genre in interesting ways. Resnais only uses song fragments, never complete songs. He’ll toss the song shards in briskly and briefly, sometimes in the middle of a sentence. Dialogue and song are simply two different modes of ‘speech’ here, the only distinction being that the songs represent a character’s private thoughts or reveries, unheard by other characters. Herbert Ross’ wonderful Potter adaptation Pennies From Heaven (1981), with Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters and Christopher Walken, uses a similar idea.
Also, like Potter, Resnais uses original recordings rather than modern re-recordings or the actors’ own singing voices. And the characters never break into song and dance (there’s no dancing at all); they simply interpolate song bits into their dialogue without any change of tenor.
The movie features one of the best-kept secrets of cinema acting of the last decade or two: the crack ensemble that Resnais has been deploying consistently, with some permutations—Sabine Azema, Pierre Arditi, André Dussolier, Lambert Wilson, etc. These four also turn up in Resnais’ new (and strong) film, Coeurs (U.S. title: Private Fears In Public Places), which is being released here in a few weeks.
Resnais: "Nicole Vedres, with whom I worked as an assistant in 1947 on Paris Mil Neuf Cent, told me one day that the novel, in its descriptions of love and its melodies, could never match so-called popular or music-hall songs. And I've often noticed that popular songs accompany the acts of our everyday lives. If we behaved at all naturally, we'd use song lyrics in conversation."
“Paroles Paroles” [mp3], by Dalida and Alain Delon, is one of the songs featured in On Connaît La Chanson. Its appeal comes through even in the charmingly dated clip above, from a 1970’s French TV show. The arrangement is pure bossa-nova, complete with flutes and finger-picked acoustic rhythm guitars and subtle, pastel-like strings. (I’m reminded of the work Claus Ogerman did for Jobim.) The entire “B”-section is a beauty, with some lovely melodic turns and a couple of great, hair-raising chord changes right before it heads into the chorus. (The “B”-section kicks off with “Caramels, bonbons et chocolats” and spans 1:00 – 1:30 and 2:45 – 3:15 in the clip.)
A big shout-out of thanks to one of my daily reads, the omnivorous and erudite Belgian blogger Jan of Jahsonic, for tipping me off to "Paroles Paroles" on YouTube!
I occasionally teach in France for a couple of weeks in the spring, and picked up the DVD of the film on one of my trips. The film was released briefly and weakly in the U.S., and never came out on DVD. I searched high and low for the soundtrack CD in France, with no success. I have a few of the individual songs on other CDs (e.g. by Jane Birkin or Maurice Chevalier) but would love to get my hands on the entire soundtrack disc. I recently managed to track down Mancini’s soundtrack to Howard Hawks’ Hatari after a few years of searching, so I’m not giving up hope for On Connaît La Chanson. If anyone has a lead, I’ll be eternally grateful!
And now, I’m wondering: is there a great soundtrack album that has eluded you? Or, alternatively, a film you wish had a soundtrack album you could own? Perhaps we could collectively share our soundtrack wants here….