DECEPTION (Tromperie)

Reviewed for &, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Arnaud Desplechin
Screenwriter: Arnaud Desplechin from the novel by Philip Rotyh
Cast: Denis Podalydès, Léa Seydoux, Emmanuelle Devos, Anouk Grinberg, Madalina Constantin, Miglen Mirtchev
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/6/22
Streaming on MUBI: May 20, 2022

There are people out there, especially students in high school and college forced to read something more than the latest Twitter post, who think that writers must be nerds who sit at their desks all day and do not talk to anybody except for colleagues whose output for literature and theater is something that only they enjoy. They should read Philip Roth. Not just read him and think that he’s delving in fantasies that other scribes must enjoy, but also take in Arnaud Desplechin’s “Deception.” They will see that Roth’s novel of the same name is semi-autobiographical; that he really did indulge in affairs with a succession of women who apparently do not think that physical appearance is all-important but who value his empathy, his willingness to listen to their dreams and troubles, and not to impose his own vivid imagination on them. In other words, he does not mansplain, at least in this examination of his adulterous relationships. Perhaps his reputation for machismo is on hold.

Roth’s 1990 novel was the first in which the author uses his own name, his own reputation, and as we see in this film, he wrote what he knows. As played by Denis Podalydès and focusing on his liaisons with the beautiful, well, we do not know her name other than she is listed in the cast as L’amante anglaise, played by Lèa Seydoux. Warning to those who believe that cinema must concentrate on action while theater is reserved for clever dialogue: “Deception” is unabashedly theatrical, and while the dialogue falls short of Shakespearean, Roth had the ability to charm the fairer sex.

Most of the “action” is in his London apartment, though Desplechin has no need to convince us with a sense of place. (Even a scene in Prague is conspicuously photoshopped.) Roth’s unnamed love interest is in her mid-thirties, in a loveless marriage to which she has become accustomed because, as she tells Roth who urges her to have the dignity to break up with her husband, replies, “There is no dignity without income.” Roth disagrees, but aren’t people who disparage the importance of money well-heeled themselves, like the popular author? A few scenes involve Roth’s reenactment of a relationship with Rosalie (Emmanuelle Devos), a former lover who now has cancer, after being told that her CT had shown no problems.

Roth’s concerns with anti-Semitism comes out when he asks his “shicksa” why Brits always mention the word “Jew” in the same slight tone that they would talk about shit. And does his paramour likes penises of her choice better when they are uncircumcised is thrown in as a light touch. The most involving scene occurs when the theatrical becomes more cinematic; when Roth is on trial in the movie’s fantasy, facing only women in the courtroom, the prosecutor citing him for narcissism and sexism, claiming that he is an abuser of women. Switching to reality, Roth is trying to convince his wife (Anouk Grinberg) that the notebooks she found and read are nothing more than jottings about his upcoming fiction. This might serve as the great deception of the film’s title.

Who might go for the film? If you are a patron of theater, you are someone who appreciates the fine dialogue on display here. If you follow the #MeToo movement and want to see why a pretty, educated, intelligent, upper-middle-class woman would go for a guy with a reputation for toxic masculinity, you will take in how he is able to keep her affection, even love, perhaps even because he is unapologetically macho. If you are a fan of the director, whose “Ismael’s Ghosts” looks at how a filmmaker’s life is affected by the presence of a former lover, this could be for you. You could not be faulted for being a fan of Lèa Seydoux, marvelous as the title character in Bruno Dumont’s “France,” whose career is halted after a car accident. Are you one of these lucky people?

In French with English subtitles.

102 minutes. © 2022 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B

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By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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