I can't remember the first film I ever saw about the intertwining lives of a group of relative strangers -- Robert Altman's [i]Short Cuts [/i]perhaps -- but directors apparently haven't yet grown tired of this format. [i]Private Fears in Public Places [/i]features six lonely middle-aged Parisians whose paths cross regularly. The common thread among their individual stories is their shared inability to form any meaningful connections.
Nicole and Dan are an unhappily engaged couple who are hunting for a new apartment. Nicole, a successful professional, is constantly complaining that Dan, a former soldier, hasn't worked in over six months and spends his days drinking in a fancy hotel bar rather than seeking employment.
Lionel is the bartender in the aforementioned establishment. Day in and day out he serves Dan his drinks and listens to his drunken tales of woe, always remaining polite but professionally aloof. Lionel returns home each night to a foul-mouthed, cantankerous, bedridden old father for whom he must hire a constant stream of caretakers.
Thierry is the real estate agent who shows Nicole and Dan apartments. He lives with his much younger sister Gaelle who goes on fruitless blind dates almost every night. At one point, after Nicole and Dan decide to "take a break", Gaelle's date du jour turns out to be Dan.
Thierry works with a Bible-thumping woman named Charlotte who also moonlights as a caretaker for Lionel's father. After watching a VHS tape of an inspirational Christian music program that she insists on lending him, Thierry is pleasantly shocked to find that the program was recorded on top of an old home-made soft corn porn video and becomes convinced that the "actress" is Charlotte.
It snows constantly throughout this film, that obviously fake sort of movie snow that sticks to the shoulders of the characters' coats but never bothers to melt when they come inside. The snow serves not only as a backdrop for every scene, but is also used to segue from one scene to the next. I don't know what all of the snow is supposed to mean...a metaphor for bleakness perhaps...but it's definitely the most memorable part of the whole movie.
The acting is fine, I suppose, but the characters and their stories are all rather boring and depressing. Lionel the bartender is the only one I actually even liked, but only because he lives his miserable life with quiet dignity rather than being a shrew, a drunkard, a lech, a hypocrite, or a desperate-dater like the others.
If you're the sort of person for whom the typical American happily-ever-after romances make you walk out of the theater feeling like you want to kill yourself, perhaps this film's ensemble cast of lonely losers will perk you right up. On the other hand, the idea that you might still be living an empty, hopeless life when you're sixty might make you want to stick your head right back in the oven.
Though I appreciated this film on some level, I certainly didn't enjoy it and I don't feel right about inflicting it on anyone else. It makes for a rather long, disheartening two hours.