It depends on who's telling the story. How many times have we all discovered the truth and the irony in that axiom by hearing two or more individuals give their conscientious eyewitness versions of precisely the same happenings? And, indeed, how dramatically and thoughtfully have we seen it illustrated on the screen in such films as the current "The Outrage" and its classic antecedent, "Rashomon"?
Now the French director André Cayatte has turned to an extreme and novel way of giving it forceful illustration and commercial fascination on the screen. He has told the story of a marriage and its break-up in two separate films, each of them played by the same actors in the same continuity of locales.
One is the story of the disaster as recollected by the wife, the other as recollected by the husband. And, just as you would suppose, the wife's recollection of what happened is quite different from that of her spouse.
In "Anatomy of a Marriage," a tandem title for the films that opened here yesterday at separate theaters, the wife is the strong one in the union as she reconstructs the characteristics of the marriage. She is the one who is trapped by the familiar physical consequence of a recklessly romantic love affair.
She is the one who has the foresight and the stamina to urge her spouse to take a course within his compass in the building of his career. And it is she who takes over as breadwinner when he cannot quite carry the load. She goes on to become a successful career woman, thus arousing his fatal jealousy.
This exposition of the drama, entitled "My Days With Jean-Marc," is being presented in a sweetly feminine atmosphere at the Cinema Rendezvous on West 57th Street; the husband's side, entitled "My Nights with Françoise," is being shown in an aura of masculinity at the Little Carnegie, one block up the street. They way the husband recalls it is strikingly—almost shockingly—different from the recollections of his wife. One ticket, incidentally, covers admission to both films ($2.50 on weekdays, $3 on weekends).
The husband recalls himself as the noble one in the solution of their embarrassed love affair, and as the cool and sensible director of his legal career. He also remembers that his continuation in the work that he loved in a provincial town had to be abandoned because of the petulant misbehavior of his wife. The way he recalls the progress of her successful career is in a series of dismal recollections of shameful affairs with other men, disregard for his feelings and callous neglect of their child.
Obviously, these two pictures, seen (as they must be seen) in an arbitrary continuity with an arbitrary lapse of time between, do not have the unity and cohesion of a single piece of work. They have the characteristic of two separate case histories, recognizable as related only because the people and the places are the same.
Nor do they have a rounded and satisfactory dramatic construction as separate films. Each is so completely developed to generate sympathy for one spouse that the other becomes a transgressor with no redeeming qualities to balance the scales. Without the beforehand knowledge that the other side may be seen in the second picture, the viewer of only one might be put out.
Yet, with that prefatory knowledge, it is hard to imagine anyone, after seeing one of these pictures, not rushing as fast as he can to the other one, or Mr. Cayatte has developed, in each instance, a most insistent and provocative case that leaves one curious and aggressive, in one way or another, depending upon one's sex.
He and his writers have selected significant incidents by which to illustrate the differences of interest of the huband and wife. The husband, for instance, lays much store by the embarrassment of his mother in his life; the wife has little interest or recollection of her mother-in-law. Simple and subtle details that appear differently in the two films give striking clues to the distress and anxieties that weigh heavily in their minds.
Also, both films are played shrewdly and with revealing variations. Jacques Charrier as the husband and Marie-José Nat as the wife skillfully portray the characteristics of nobility and selflessness or pettiness and shame. Michel Subor is fascinating as the former lover and still good friend of the wife, and Jacqueline Porel is interesting as the husband's mother. There are other splendid characterizations of Parisian and provincial types, etched and developed in the familiar, crisp Cayatte style.
And yet, when you come down to it, the two main characters in these films are distinctly commonplace people, inadequate to responsibility, immature and hardly worth the exceptional attention that is given to them. The range of their disagreement is so wide, indeed, that one feels a third film would now be in order to tell what really happens to them.
Incidentally, I would suggest that the order in which to see them is the husband's story first, then the wife's. The latter concludes on a more realistic and logical note of hope.
© Bosley Crowther, "The New York Times", October 27, 1964.