Rien sur Robert

France 1998

Reviewed by Chris Darke


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Paris, the present. Didier Temple, a critic, is smarting after having been exposed for denouncing a Serbian film without seeing it. His girlfriend Juliette turns up at his office and tells him she has lost her job. Didier is convinced he's being followed by a young man whom he spots in the street. Later, Juliette meets a television director and tells Didier she intends to sleep with him.

Didier is invited by a friend to a dinner party given by the Chatwick-Wests. When Didier arrives at the party, his hostess is nonplussed by his presence. His host Ariel Chatwick-West then mocks Didier in front of the guests, one of whom is Jérôme Sauveur, the man Didier thinks has been following him. Humiliated, Didier tries to escape from the house and discovers a young woman, Aurélie, hiding in an upstairs room. She attempts to seduce him.

The following day, Juliette tell Didier of her sexual escapades with the television director. When he pursues her, Didier is knocked down by a car. On leaving hospital, Didier visits Aurélie. They have sex and she reveals that she has attempted suicide. Didier and Aurélie take off to Italy but break off their journey to stay at a hotel overlooking the French Alps. Juliette calls Didier to tell him she's coming to meet him.

It transpires that Sauveur and his girlfriend are staying at the same hotel and that Aurélie and he were formerly lovers. Aurélie collapses in pain and is taken away for treatment. She returns to the hotel; Sauveur breaks in on her and Didier, who is wielding a pistol. Aurélie and Juliette travel back to Paris together. Back in Paris, Didier calls on Aurélie but leaves her when she has another attack. Summoned to hospital, Didier learns that Aurélie has again attempted suicide. Didier visits Aurélie again to admit that he doesn't love her. On leaving, he discovers that Juliette is leaving for Italy with Sauveur.


In director Pascal Bonitzer's exquisitely cruel comedy Rien sur Robert the main character is a critic, Didier Temple, who savages a Serbian film without having taken the trouble to see it. A former editor of French film magazine Cahiers du cinéma, Bonitzer is presumably drawing less from personal experience here than from an incident when French intellectual Alain Finkielkraut fulminated against Emir Kusturica's 1995 Underground in the pages of Le Monde before having seen the film. Bonitzer takes this act of critical bad faith as the jumping-off point for a scabrous and unsettling little comedy about intellectual manners, social humiliation and vying belles lettristes.

Casting Fabrice Luchini as Didier was an inspired decision; a master at suggesting blank-faced malice and passive aggression, Luchini's association with French costume drama, Beaumarchais l'insolent, in particular, suits him ideally to the role. For all the modern Parisian paraphernalia of elegant monographs, mobile phones and brainy bed-hopping, there's a sense in which Bonitzer's combination of erudition and eroticised intrigue is still grounded in a vision of the Parisian intellectual élite as a venomous court. So we have the faux pas-committing courtier in Didier, the handsome young arriviste man-of-letters in Jérôme Sauveur, and the ogreish seigneur in Ariel Chatwick-West (played by Michel Piccoli). Chatwick-West's terrifying dinner-party humiliation of Didier alone makes the film worth seeing, if only for the relish with which Chatwick-West devours and spits out Didier's overweening self-regard.

In calling on the twin influences of Freud and surrealism, Bonitzer succeeds in making Rien sur Robert more than just a satire on the insular world of the French literati. There's a deliberate splitting of characters: Didier and Sauveur, for example, function as two halves of the same sociological composite, the French intellectual. Juliette and Aurélie are also equal and opposite mirror-images of Parisian femininity: Juliette, bemused, foul-mouthed and always attracted by the wrong man, is an utterly contemporary character. Aurélie, whom Didier discovers concealed in an upstairs room in the Chatwick-West home, is the mad woman in the attic.

That the relationship which develops between Aurélie and Didier quickly turns problematic for both of them is an implicit critique of a particular French intellectual tradition which glorifies madness as romantically attractive. It's through the figure of Aurélie and in Didier's relationship with her that the film focuses on issues of responsibility and selfishness, gradually developing its light-hearted comic tone into something altogether more tragic.


Pascal Bonitzer
Jean-Michel Rey
Philippe Liègeois
Pascal Bonitzer
Director of Photography
Christophe Pollock
Suzanne Koch
Art Director
Emmanuel de Chauvigny
©Rezo Films/Assise Production/France 3 Cinéma
Production Companies
Rezo Films presents
a co-production of Rezo Films/Assise Production/France 2 Cinéma with the participation of Canal+/sofica Sofinergie 4/Sofinergie 5/Centre National de la Cinématographie
Executive Producer
Catherine Chouridis
Production Manager
Catherine Chouridis
Unit Production Manager
Didier Carrel
Unit Manager
Carmen Lima
Location Managers
Thomas Pitre
Stéphane Cressend
Post-production Supervisor
Eve Albertini
Assistant Directors
Philippe Tourret
Céline Cuvellier
Script Supervisor
Lydie Mahias
Antoinette Boulat
Set Decorator
Françoise Doré
Costume Designer
Khadija Zeggai
Marie-José Escolar
Nathalie Suhard
Michelle Constantinides
Odile Fourquin
Catherine Crassac
Sarah Guetta
René Sebaoon
Music Consultant
Nicolas Saada
"Ray of Light" by/performed by Leon Parker; "Alone" by
H. Levy, performed by The Don Ellis Orchestra; "Open Beauty" by Don Ellis, performed by The Don Ellis Orchestra; "Valse" by/performed by Antonio Carlos Jobim; "La Derelitta" by Bruno Fontaine, Pascal Bonitzer, performed by Patricia Dinev
Studio Recordist
Olivier Do Huu
Frédéric Ullmann
Jean-Pierre Laforce
Marion Lorthioir
Sound Editor
Gérard Hardy
Sound Effects
Pascal Chauvin
Fabrice Luchini
Didier Temple
Sandrine Kiberlain
Juliette Sauvage
Valentina Cervi
Aurélie Coquille
Michel Piccoli
Lord Ariel Chatwick-West
Bernadette Lafont
Madame Sauvage
Laurent Lucas
Jérôme Sauveur
Denis Podalydès
Nathalie Boutefeu
Violaine Rachat
Micheline Boudet
Madame Temple
Edouard Baer
Alain de Xantras
Violeta Sanchez
Ariane Morgenstern
Wilfred BenaÏche
Marilu Marini
Ana, Aurélie's mother
Alexis Nitzer
Monsieur Temple
Dimitri Rataud
Arthur Temple
Patricia Dinev
Millennium Film Distributors
9,596 feet
106 minutes 37 seconds
In Colour
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011