Smoking And No Smoking

The consequences of a housewife smoking or not smoking a single cigarette branch out into a dozen separate destinies and parallel universes, each with its own conclusion, in these two French features by Alain Resnais. Adapted and translated from six of the eight comic plays comprising British playwright Alan Ayckbourn’s Intimate Exchanges, they can be seen alone or together, and in either order. The project, a tour de force for two actors playing multiple roles (Pierre Arditi and Sabine Azema), succeeded at the box office when released in France in 1993, and as a unit the two films swept the Cesars (French Oscars) for best picture, director, actor, and set design. They’ve taken quite a while to surface here; some Americans are put off by the curiosity of typical Yorkshire residents speaking French and by the extreme stylization and deliberate artificiality of the sets. Not everyone will like this interactive experiment, but like every other Resnais film, Smoking (135 min.) and No Smoking (142 min.) are definitely worth checking out. (JR)

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