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Stavisky

Serge Stavisky was a Ponzi scheme practitioner in early-1930s France who toppled a government when his house of cards fell apart. What the Keating Five were to Americans, L'affair Stavisky was to the French. Stavisky knew many of the then socialist government's members, and they were implicated in his financial shenanigans. Conservative politicians were able to capitalize on socialist corruption. And the people — hearing of the political perfidy piecemeal in a myriad of daily papers the way Americans learned about Watergate — rioted, charging meetings and public buildings with the intensity of French revolutionaries or Florida re-count protesters. In a climate of global economic worries and unstable governments, everyone was scared, from pols to peasants. But all that happens after the events in Stavisky end. And director Alain Resnais, with screenwriter Jorge Semprun, is more interested in the curious balance of life and death in Stavisky's demeanor. Serge Stavisky (Jean-Paul Belmondo), who went by the name Serge Alexandre during the events recounted in the film, was a Russian Jew who emigrated as a child to France with his dentist father. Under the influence of a rogue grandfather, Stavisky became a major con-man. By the time Stavisky begins, he has several quasi-legitimate businesses, a beautiful wife Arlette (the breathtaking Anny Duperey) and a series of schemes he is juggling. Stavisky is, a symphony of loan repayments, spread sheets, and numbered accounts. Stavisky, however, has a powerful human element as well: it is a profile of a man moving quickly and selfishly to avoid death. Belmondo is superb as Stavisky, a lovable louse, a fascinating scam artist who loved to live on the edge. Surrounded by advisors whom he never listens to, such as Baron Raoul (Charles Boyer) and Albert Borelli (François Périer), Stavisky lives life to the fullest while others bask in his glow. Stavisky is at the same time both old fashioned and modernist. Resnais uses his patented unannounced flashbacks to mount layer upon layer of his and Semprun's narrative. His camera tracks past architecture, making love to it from a distance, in ways reminiscent of Last Year at Marienbad's evocative strategies. And there is an odd shift in the film as the "story" of the Stavisky debacle, provided in chronological order, gives way to a series of testimonies by subsidiary characters to a commission set up to investigate the breath of the corruption in the wake of Stavisky's mysterious death. Image Entertainment's DVD release features a good anamorphic transfer (1.66:1) and Dolby Digital 1.0 audio. Scene-selection, keep-case.
—D.K. Holm

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