Updated: May 23
The premise of Claude Berri’s 1977 film ‘In a Wild Moment’ (Un Moment d'égarement) is simplicity itself: a middle-aged man’s affair with a much younger woman. Filmed on the Cote d’Azur at the height of summer, the heat in this film is both literal and metaphorical. In an age before sunbathing became a health hazard, the beaches are jam-packed with bronzed bodies captured in some fascinating exposition shots.
Best pals Pierre (Jean-Pierre Marielle) and Jacques (Victor Lanoux) have each brought a daughter to the coast for a holiday, both of whom are at that age when hormones are racing. The foursome arrive in the south of France in the middle of a heatwave. It’s holiday time, sun, sea and sand.
Complicating matters is a twist on the classic menage a trois theme. For the Casanova in this case, 44-year old Pierre just so happens to be conducting a summer romance with Francoise, (Agnes Soirel) the nubile young daughter of Jacques. Fans of the Eric Rohmer milieu of film-making will know exactly what to expect and will no doubt adore the subtexts.
While Pierre is divorced, Jacques appears to be in the middle of a fraught relationship with a wife who takes separate holidays. Pierre is chilled, Jacques stressed. Meanwhile, their daughters soon find admirers queuing up and soon enough they are tearing around the resort riding pillion to the local studs, returning back to the villa not before sunrise.
It’s all rather gentle: Pierre and Jacques appreciate the very ample sights on the beach with the experience and wisdom of the middle-aged male. The candy is out of reach. They know how it goes by now. Matters are hardly helped that the very nubile Francoise insists on bathing topless – a propensity seemingly ignored by both her father and Pierre. Undercurrents swirl.
But then the apparent harmony is shattered. When Pierre and Francoise find themselves swimming in the moonlit sea together one night, much to the older man’s surprise the young girl takes the initiative. And so the film enters the territory of the flesh, the seemingly inexorable susceptibility of the middle-aged male to younger, firmer flesh.
Though Pierre is horrified at what has occurred, full of remorse and even self-disgust, he just can’t help himself. As the heat soars and the crickets sing to a crescendo, the affair plays out right under the nose of Francoise’s father who is preoccupied with his own marital woes. Eventually daughter confides in her father. She’s become intimate with a much older man but she is certain he will not ever return her love, not truly.
Angry and worried by his daughter’s condition, Jacques has a favour to ask Pierre: Would his best buddy try to find out the identity of the middle-aged lothario who has had his wicked way with Francoise and has now gone cold? Pierre agrees, reluctantly of course. If you can cope with this rather contrived part of the plot the film gets even better. However if you can’t . . .
It’s a bit like when Othello keeps confiding in Iago, the man who is busily destroying his life and whom Shakespeare’s tragic hero insists on calling ‘honest.’ When Francoise reveals to her father that her lover is 44 – the same age as Pierre – still Jacques fails to make the connection. Instead he goes after various suspects: waiters and crooners.
At just 81 minutes, ‘In a Wild Moment’ feels far too short in terms of screen-time. Following the film’s denouement it ends rather abruptly. Sex might be possible between the ages, but is love too possible? Will the summer romance endure? These questions are rightly left hanging in the air.
Overall, ‘In a Wild Moment’ is a rather atmospheric little daydream enhanced no end by what looks to have been a fierce St Tropez summer of ’77. Have a watch. Despite some small flaws it’s pure, dreamy escapism. At any rate it looks and feels like a whole lot of fun.