Smoking/No Smoking (1993)
Directed by Alain Resnais
Based on the Alan Ayckbourn play Intimate Exchanges, Smoking / No Smoking is a look into the lives of a private school teacher Toby Teasdale, his wife Celia and an assortment of other characters that inhabit their world. Smoking / No Smoking are actually two movies generally shown back to back. In the first Celia Teasdale chain-smokes her way through the film as different scenarios play themselves out between her and her husband, the gardener, etc. In the second similar, but different series of events unfold as Celia decides not to smoke when tempted.
While the movie plays out like a series of alternate universes with the characters interacting in slightly different ways throughout both films, the end result feels more like a writing exercise designed to explore all combinations of characters and scenarios. Celia Teasdale's decision to smoke or not has no direct impact on the outcome of events and the stories as a whole lack a framing structure to explain the existence of the alternate universes.
After sitting through all 298 minutes of the combined films, I was left wondering whether or not this drawn out experiment served as inspiration for director Tom Tykwer to make his film Run Lola Run as concise as possible (total running time a mere 80 minutes!) while exploring similar themes. At nearly opposite ends of the spectrum, Run Lola Run and Smoking / No Smoking definitely make for interesting comparison.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Smoking / No Smoking is that all roles are performed by only two actors! I had no idea this was the case until after I had seen the movie and was preparing notes for this review. I had suspected while watching the film that female lead, Sabine Azema was performing in a least two roles, but when I found out she was playing all the female roles I was blown away. The characters played by the male lead, Pierre Arditi, look nothing a like and I could have sworn that some of the male characters even differed in height. After learning the truth behind this film, I was stunned at the acting ability of both these actors and that their physical transformations could be so complete was astounding. In a "Sixth Sense" like twist, its not until after you've seen the film, you go back and realize that during any given scene only one female character and one male character are shown on screen.
While Smoking / No Smoking provides an interesting look at how a individual's lives can take different turns based on the personal choices we make it comes off as a rather weak example of personal alternate universes. Unless you're an fan of either Alain Resnais or Alan Ackybourn (and have nearly 5 hours to spare!) I suggest passing on this movie in favour of Run Lola Run or even Sliding Doors as an example of good alternate universes.
Review Posted: 2000-11-29
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