César and Rosalie (1972) is a piece of fanciful French whimsy by director Claude Sautet. An obscure little drama starring Yves Montand, Romy Schneider and Sami Frey, this film, though never really going anywhere, strangely manages to hold your attention with its languid, laid back approach. Rosalie (Schneider) is a divorced mother of one who happily divides her time between her mother’s house, where she lives with her siblings and daughter, and her boyfriend César’s apartment. César (Montand) has made a fortune dealing in scrap metal and, though he loves Rosalie dearly and she him, he seldom shows his appreciation for her outwardly.
Enter Rosalie’s old boyfriend David (Frey), a successful comic-book artist, who walked out on her several years before but suddenly appears on the scene with the intention of winning her back. So starts a battle of wills as César and David fight for Rosalie’s love and attention, whilst she begins to feel increasingly like she’s playing piggy-in-the-middle. Just who will our protagonist chose as her knight in shining armour?
César and Rosalie is a film which captures perfectly the attitudes and lifestyle peculiar to many people on mainland Europe, and in particular France. Everything from their jobs to their private lives seems to be done with such nonchalance and in such effortless style, that you can’t help but be jealous of them no matter how underhanded or debauched their dealings appear. That none of the characters who form the uneasy ménage-a-trios at the centre of the story, seem to know who or what they want will come as little surprise. They interchange with each-other so frequently throughout the proceedings and with such scant respect for the feelings of the others, that by the end they all come out appearing selfish and insecure to a greater or lesser degree.
However that is where the secret of the film’s appeal lies. As with the relationship between Rosalie, César and David, there is an overriding ambiguity with its central story, and its final denouement is as open ended as the character’s liaisons, leaving the viewer to come to their own conclusions as to its ultimate outcome. Sautet’s César and Rosalie is, at its best, a film to curl up with on a wet afternoon. Easy to watch and undemanding it leaves the viewer feeling non-committal – much like Rosalie and her warring suitors.