DECEPTION (Deception)

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

There are people, especially high school and college students forced to read something more than the latest Twitter post, who think writers must be nerds who sit at their desks all day and only talk to nobody, except to the colleagues whose output for literature and the theater are things which only they appreciate. They should read Philip Roth. Not only to read it and think that it plunges into fantasies that other scribes must take advantage of, but also to soak up the “Deception” of Arnaud Desplechin. They will see that Roth’s novel of the same name is semi-autobiographical; that he has truly flirted with a succession of women who apparently don’t think physical appearance is paramount but who appreciate his empathy, his willingness to listen to their dreams and problems, and not impose his own vivid imagination. In other words, he is unexplained, 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 seen in this film, he wrote what he knows. Played by Denis Podalydès and dwelling on his liaisons with the beautiful, well, we don’t know her name except that she appears in the cast under the name of The English lover, interpreted by Lèa Seydoux. Warning to those who believe that cinema should focus on action while theater is for clever dialogue: “Deception” is decidedly theatrical, and while the dialogue is far from Shakespearian, Roth had the ability to charm the female gender.

Most of the ‘action’ takes place in his London flat, although Desplechin doesn’t need to win us over with a sense of place. (Even a scene in Prague is obviously photoshopped.) Roth’s unnamed love interest is in her mid-thirties, in a loveless marriage she’s gotten used to because, as she tells Roth, who urges to have the dignity to break with her. husband, replies: “There is no dignity without an income. Roth disagrees, but aren’t the people who denigrate the importance of money themselves well off, like the popular author? A few scenes involve Roth’s re-enactment of a relationship with Rosalie (Emmanuelle Devos), a former lover who now has cancer, after learning that her CT showed no problems.

Roth’s concerns about anti-Semitism come out when he asks his “shicksa” why Brits always mention the word “Jew” in the same lighthearted tone that they would talk shit. And does her lover like penises of her choice better when they are uncircumcised is thrown away as a slight touch. The most engaging scene occurs when the theatrical becomes more cinematic; when Roth is tried in the film’s fantasy, facing only women in the courtroom, with the prosecutor citing him for narcissism and sexism, claiming he is a woman abuser. Switching to reality, Roth tries to convince his wife (Anouk Grinberg) that the notebooks she found and read are just notes on his upcoming fiction. This could be the great deception of the film’s title.

Who could go for the movie? If you are a theater patron, you are someone who appreciates the beautiful dialogue presented here. If you follow the #MeToo movement and want to see why a pretty, educated, smart, upper-middle-class woman would go for a guy known for his toxic masculinity, you’ll understand how he’s able to keep her affections, even the love, maybe even because he is decidedly macho. If you’re 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 might be for you. You can’t be blamed for being a fan of Lèa Seydoux, marvelous in the main character of “La France” by Bruno Dumont, whose career ended after a car accident. Are you one of those lucky ones?

In French with English subtitles.

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

Interim – B+
Overall – B


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