Luis Buñuel once said, "The screen is a dangerous and wonderful instrument, if a free spirit uses it. It is the superior way of expressing dreams, emotions and instincts." Fortunately, those same dreams, emotions and instincts continue to dazzle and mystify audiences worldwide, thanks to free spirited French director, Claude Lelouch.
Lelouch, the writer-director-cinematographer-producer whose New Wave love story, A Man and a Woman---starring Jean-Louis Trintignant and Anouk Aimée---set a precedent for continental romance back in 1966, is back and better than ever with And Now Ladies & Gentlemen, a passionate love story about two interconnected souls suffering from one deadly secret.
Set primarily in sun-drenched Morocco, And Now Ladies & Gentlemen begins in England, where a master jewel thief named Valentin (Jeremy Irons) sets out to rob Europe's most elite jeweler, Bulgari. Inspired by the classic French literary character Arsene Lupin, Valentin is every bit the gentleman-thief. Tall, dark, and broodingly handsome, he's nothing if not discreet. Armed with a foolproof plan that requires little more than proper timing and a keen eye for the metropolitan bustle of Bond Street, Valentin saunters up to Bulgari's general manager (Nicholas Jones I) with a clever scheme that casts him as a well informed police inspector looking to bust an infamous jewel thief who plans on robbing the jeweler's London store. Of course, the bumbling manager falls for Valentin's conniving performance, agreeing to hand over Bulgari's tantalizing trinkets to the aging thief, so Valentin and his undercover cops---hidden away in a phony surveillance vehicle across the street---can finally nab the crafty old-timer. There's just one problem. Once the imbecilic manager realizes that a rumpled old looking Valentin has been masquerading as the dangerous, yet decrepit jewel thief, the experienced con man is half way across the English Channel on his way back to Paris.
In the mean time, French jazz chanteuse Jane Lester (Patricia Kaas, the wildly popular French singing sensation in her feature film debut) is recovering from an ill-fated love affair with a two-timing trumpet player (Samuel Labarthe) who's been fooling around with her singing partner and best friend (Laure Mayne-Kerbrat). Heartbroken, Jane packs her bags and heads to Morocco to accept a job as a lounge singer at the Hotel Jamai, a five star hideaway for the rich and famous in Fez. Only once she gets there, Jane begins having random blackouts, forgetting the lyrics to nearly every song in her long running act. Frightened that she might have a brain tumor, Jane visits the local doctor (Jean-Marie Bigard in a dual role as Dr. Larry and his twin brother, the goofy Essaouiran pharmacist), and schedules a CAT scan for the following day.
But before Jane returns to the hospital for the exam, she meets the enigmatic Valentin on a trance-like stroll through the dangerous alleyways of the medieval Moroccan capital. Valentin, who left his wife Françoise (Allesandra Martines) to sail around the world in a newly purchased catamaran from the affable Thierry (Thierry L'Hermitte), lands in the misty harbor of Essaouira, after colliding with a small fishing boat off the resplendent African coast.
Soon after arriving in Fez, Valentin learns the boating accident was caused by a string of blackouts, similar to those suffered by Jane, and vows to reclaim the past by trekking through the arid desert with his beautiful cohort to the tomb of legendary North African healer, Lalla Chafia. Unfortunately, the spiritual pilgrimage to the hilltop city of Moulay-Yacoub ends up being prematurely shortened, when a local inspector (the Moroccan-born Amidou) discovers Valentin is a world-renowned jewel thief, and arrests him for stealing Madame Falconetti's (Claudia Cardinale) precious stones from her room at the exclusive Jamai.
The film, which incorporates Lelouch's distinct style, combining the use of music---written by Academy Award® winning composer, Michel Legrand---with a series of flashbacks, unique camera work, and an avant garde mix of black and white photography used to represent the blackouts, creates a mesmerizing, almost surreal look at the character's unconscious state of mind. To do this, Lelouch infuses And Now Ladies & Gentlemen with a short-circuit form of suspended disbelief, filling the film with kinetic imagery so bold and so rich, that it invites the audience to linger, indefinitely, at its lyrical landscape. Lelouch, a master at turning out a bevy of unapologetically romantic films---including Live for Life, allows the story ample time to develop, before turning it into a haunting tale about transmigrating souls who become pseudoscientifically linked through an unmitigated case of Jung-esque synchronicity.
Apart from the film's sweeping sexiness, And Now Ladies & Gentlemen successfully transitions from mythically induced fable to full-blown romantic fantasy---replete with lascivious renditions of "What Now My Love" and "Mon Homme," largely because of its spectacular cast. Jeremy Irons and Patricia Kaas sizzle with undeniable chemistry, conveying a deep, almost everlasting sense of vulnerability that speaks to the heart, and reaffirms And Now Ladies & Gentlemen's most prolific notion that "life is a deep sleep, of which love is the dream."