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PLAY IT AGAIN, CLAUDE

Like most soap operas, Claude Miller's The Accompanist covers familiar ground. It is the winter of 1942-1943. The Nazis occupy Paris. And the ethical tug-of-war between the French Resistance fighters and the Vichy collaborationists is taking on ever darker tones.

Still, director Miller wants us to believe that the problems of three little people amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Instead of Rick Blaine and his pals the Laszlos, though, he gives us a far less compelling trio: a vain, magnetic French soprano named Irene Brice (Elena Safonova), who's been busy serenading the Germans; her cuckolded husband, Charles (Richard Bohringer), who's beginning to have pangs of conscience about his war profiteering; and a timid young ragamuffin (Romane Bohringer, offscreen daughter of Richard) who becomes the fascinated witness to the Brice family travails when she's hired as a pianist-slash-lady's maid.

Actually, Miller's good-hearted but dull film bears a stronger resemblance to Truffaut's Occupation drama The Last Metro than to the sparkling Casablanca. But it owes its soul to the great Jean Renoir. In trying to show us the loyalty tests and material temptations faced by a poor girl suddenly coming of age in a troubled world of privilege, Miller clearly aspires to the kind of exquisite moral quandaries we find in Rules of the Game or Grand Illusion.

But Miller's no Renoir. Despite its beautiful passages of Mozart, Berlioz, Schubert and Beethoven--which must carry more dramatic weight than they should--The Accompanist boils down to stock melodrama. Hey, Irene even has a dewy-eyed lover (Samuel Labarthe) in the Underground, while the budding pianist, whose name is Sophie, must reject the advances of not one but two boys, in favor of devotion to her employer.

When the political heat comes, Sophie and the Brices flee to England via Portugal. A Messerschmidt strafes their freighter. A pivotal revolver lies in a desk drawer. In London, it rains. And Irene's boyfriend materializes out of nowhere, wearing a wet trenchcoat.

You get the idea: Love, war, loyalty are all writ large in a French-language sudser more distinguished for the music on the soundtrack than for the old saws spouted by its actors.

Not bad, but you've seen almost every frame before.

 
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