"The Proprietor", by Ismail Merchant, 2007, DVD, Prism Leisure
"The Proprietor" (1996) is a Merchant-Ivory's Production film, starring Jeanne Moreau (Adrienne Mark), Christopher Cazenove (Elliott Spencer), Sean Young (Virginia Kelly) and was intended to be a story about the value of friendship, truth and generosity in our multicultural society. Despite its deceiving title, "The Proprietor" has very little to do with the possession of things. Quite the opposite, as Merchant thought of this fairy story (in his own words), as the tale of finding one's truth and one's harmony by letting go the past.
Adrienne Mark is a French writer of Jewish descent, who flew the Nazi persecution and had lived in New York for thirty years. One day, she learnt that her mother's and childhood house in Paris is on sale and thanks to her maid Milly (Nell Carter in a superb performance), finds the courage to sell all her belongings and to return to live in France, hoping she would have the opportunity to buy her mother's house. While in Paris, Adrienne would have to face her painful memories - the death of her mother, perhaps betrayed by her then gentile lover - and to reconnect with her past life - friends, lover and husband - while attempting to find her place in a country that has changed drastically since her exile to the USA thirty years ago.
While some of the actors' performance may appear unconvincing at a time, I was deeply moved by Jeanne Moreau's performance. Who else could read the phone directory and make it sound profound?. Perhaps it is merely a question of sensibility, as I found this movie imaginative, warm and optimistic. "The Proprietor" has the Merchant-Ivory’s touch, and is in no way less meaningful and convincing than any of their other stories (The Remains of the Days, Howards End, A Room with a View, etc). In the making of "The Proprietor", Merchant explained that he wanted to tell us the story of a woman's life disconnected from her past, someone who once knew how to see magic in life, but has somehow lost the ability to recognize the gifts life has sent her. Granted the storyline unfolds along reasonably expected situations, but it is also true to say that it is intelligently supported by credible and likeable characters, most of them anyway.
Back to Jeanne Moreau, there is something truly magic and fascinating about her. Her way of acting makes you feel part of something unique, beautiful and mysterious. She has a sort of classy as well as radiant presence, a special kind of beauty that I find completely intoxicating. And then, you have Richard Robbins, the man behind all the major Merchant-Ivory's film scores. The music he created for "The Proprietor" is simply wonderful, with a touch of magic too, as it lifted your spirits and gives you the strength to get on with your life. When I listen to it, especially the opening titles, I reconnect with another Merchant-Ivory's character in the movie “Howards End”, (Leonard Bast/Samuel West), who was also a human being in search for truth and harmony and whose greatest gift was probably to connect things.
In "The Proprietor", Adrienne Marks too is trying to reconnect. But she does it through her own past, instead of nature. Bottom line? Nothing valuable in one's life can be achieved in a vacuum, only through love and sincerity can the meaning of life emerged from all the pain and confusion. Shot both in New York and in Paris, "The Proprietor", treats its audience with respect and sensibility and if nothing else, makes you feel grateful about the small gifts and miracles of life. This DVD edition has an extra disc of special features, which gives great value to one's money. You may also purchase from amazon, the Making Of and the film score (I got them at a bargain price), both extremely rich and delightful. And if all of this does not have you say "My name is France" à la Jeanne Moreau, then you are probably hopeless.