roselyne et les lionsLet’s celebrate Isabelle Pasco’s birthday on toay. She’s not appeared in a lot that’s traveled far from France, but she’s brave and strong and beautiful – a lioness, you might say – in Roselyne et les lions (1989). She meets a lion-tamer and takes a lesson; so does a nice young man who drives her around on his moped while they fall in love. They travel with the circus and an eccentric supporting cast. They hone their art. Success, and increased dedication, drive the lovers to make hard choices. It’s all very French.

The film was made by Jean-Jacques Beineix, the biggest noise in French cinema ‘81 with his appealingly self-conscious debut Diva. He threw away the advantage with the squalid, Querelle-inspired The Moon In The Gutter (1983), decried by all but not without interest, then bounced back with Betty Blue (1986), which has always been better than its status as teen boys’ fave would lead one to suppose. He really hit his stride by this time, and although Roselyne et les lions is a smaller affair, it is also perfectly fluid and focused.

It’s also more interiorised, intended by Beineix as a metaphor for the long act of creation that culminates in a completed work, the performance born of experience, hard work and chance. And the climactic display is terrific, with swirling dry ice, prowling lion-vision and Pasco in a sparkling bikini.

It is almost like a pop video – the movies of Beineix and contemporaries (Besson for one) were branded the cinema du look – but it is to his credit that it is more spectacular and more resonant than that. And it is to Pasco’s credit that she convinces as someone slowly withdrawing from the world and gradually coming alive only in the company of her lions.

The film is interiorised because its concentration is on the act of lion-taming, and Roselyne’s immersion in the long hours of practice leading up to the climactic public event. The French take their circuses (and performing arts) pretty seriously as venues for artistic suffering and inevitable tragedy, as with the recent Bye Bye Blackbird (2005). Fortunately there is none of that film’s mooning about here; the lion-taming is fascinating and the circus is always a good milieu for a movie. And the animals are splendid – you’ll find yourself summoning your own cat with a commanding “Venez!”

Photo by bobtheque