THE MIDDLE OF THE WORLD (Alain Tanner, 1973)

Paul Chamoret, a French Swiss engineer running for political office, thinks he is in love with Adriana (Olimpia Carlisi, terrific), a northern Italian emigrant who works as a waitress at the railway station café not far from where Paul was born. Rumors pertaining to his extramarital affair cost Paul the election; relieved, he anticipates a new life with Adriana. But she leaves him.
     Sensitively written by the director and John Berger, Alain Tanner’s brilliant, feminist Le milieu du monde portrays a park in winter, trimmed trees in the background, each the exact same height, with snow falling diagonally on the cold grass, providing the illusion that we can see each individual flake. The trees represent Paul and this self-made man’s “perfect” life; but the snow suggests Adriana, who later remarks to Paul in bed, “Everyone always is alone.”
     A widow, Adriana comes by this conviction easily. When she is with Paul, which is often, it is especially easy for Adriana to feel alone. When she suggests that their relationship may change each of them, Paul counters, “Why should I change?” “You never listen,” she later tells him. “If you don’t listen, you never get to know people. . . . You don’t know me.” She is right; Paul knows only what he wants. One time they are about to make love, Adriana counters, “I’m cold,” after Paul stupidly remarks, “Whores undress only below the waist.” Cut; Paul and Adriana are fucking, both entirely naked.
     Across their divide of differences (Swiss, Italian; male, female; bourgeois, working-class), this couple presumably illustrates “normalization,” post-ideological détente, a middle of the road at the middle of the world. Paul gifts Adriana with a movie camera. She explodes; but isn’t she perhaps filming right now the story of their unequal relationship?

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