When Isabelle Huppert, playing the role of Araminte in the Odéon’s new production of Les Fausses confidences, is told that young Dorante (Louis Garrel) is in love with her, she unleashes a surreal fit of laughter. Tottering, convulsed, she reaches for the servant bringing her the news and clutches a nearby mantelpiece to catch her breath. The moment has a whiff of Greta Garbo in Ninotchka about it, and sets the tone for the evening.
The perils of a star-studded cast were in evidence throughout this new production of the 1737 Marivaux comedy. Directed by Odéon director Luc Bondy, it is a reunion for Huppert and Garrel, 30 years her junior, who played an incestuous mother and son in Christophe Honoré’s film Ma mère a decade ago. Here they play Marivaux’s “young widow” and her penniless suitor, who is helped along in his quest to marry Araminte by a scheming valet. But light-hearted marivaudage suits them far less, the age difference is just odd and Bondy struggles to harness their talents.
The action starts with Huppert inexplicably doing martial arts in satin pyjamas, surrounded by a sea of shoes. She returns in a white fishtail skirt and fashionably see-through black top, perched on stiletto heels, and the programme informs us that she is wearing Dior, never mind that the rest of the cast are dressed in traditional theatre costumes by Moidele Bickel. Her acting is similarly idiosyncratic: restless and grand, she twirls and sways, one minute the virtuoso we know, the next giving the impression of a drunken widow.
The production itself betrays a lack of trust in the play. Bondy halfheartedly updates its setting, the interior set’s sliding blocks resembling a game of Tetris, and key passages are glossed over. The tone swings from romantic restraint to vaudeville, with extraneous physical gags occasionally undermining Marivaux’s witty banter, from Araminte’s mother sticking her tongue out to Marton exiting through a window.
Fine performances come from the supporting cast, including Bulle Ogier as the matriarch of the play, Madame Argante, and Jean-Damien Barbin as Arlequin. Garrel is a brooding hero in a somewhat difficult role, as Dorante’s real motivations are uncertain: to what extent does Araminte’s fortune factor in his love? The final image, with Garrel and Huppert lying a few meters apart against a starry sky, is superb, but doesn’t alleviate the disappointment.
Better to pay a visit to the Odéon’s second stage, the Ateliers Berthier, to see Platonov, an impressive transfer from Vanves. The director, Benjamin Porée, is just 28, but he tackles Chekhov with gusto and a 30-strong cast of young actors. Porée is also credited with the beautifully atmospheric sets. A name to remember.