Dr. Henry Harriston maintains a posh practice as a psychoanalyst in his spacious Manhattan apartment, but, lately, his heart hasn’t been in it. His “clients” have beseiged his confidence with their life-problems and neuroses, and his morose apartment-mate, Edgar the Dog, has taken to sleeping most of the time as though he, too, were a candidate for Henry’s couch. Deciding to swap apartments with a stranger to ward off a nervous breakdown, Henry advertises in Paris. He ends up in the messy quarters of Béatrice Saulnier, while she ends up with the dog and Henry’s clientele, who accept her as Henry’s professional substitute while he is “away on vacation.” Back in New York on the sly, Henry checks up on Béatrice, assumes a false identity, becomes her patient and falls in love with her, as does she with him. But neither possesses the confidence to ’fess up to his or her feelings, and the possibility of their coming together may slip away.
Written by Chantal Äkerman and Jean-Louis Benoît, as if on a lark or, perhaps, a drunken dare, this film from the U.S., France, Germany and Belgium sparkles like a Lubitsch gem. In unfamiliar cinematic territory, director Äkerman remarkably turns out to be a fish comfortable in the water—much as wide-eyed, lovely Béatrice turns out to be a crackerjack psychoanalyst without an ideological ax to grind. Coached by Anne, her American dancer-pal who herself has undergone therapy, Béatrice repeats words that her client speaks and mutters “Yes!” every now and then, and of course lends a fully sympathetic rather than jaded ear. Even Edgar is perking up! But it is the budding romance between her and Henry that really got to me. Un divan à New York, warm, gentle, hilarious and wry, and a suspenseful matter-of-hope-and-hopelessness when it needs to be, is one of the most beautiful and compelling romantic comedies ever made. Ultimately, it sent this viewer’s spirit soaring. Attuned to Cole Porter’s “Night and Day,” the ending, in Paris, is a joyous beginning.
William Hurt is an adequate Henry; Juliette Binoche, a sublime Béatrice. This character’s name, let me tell you, is no accident.
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