Audiences of Claude Lelouch's "And Now... Ladies & Gentlemen"--at least, those who wouldn't insist on calling it a "freedom" film--will experience a certain amount of transport while watching the 2002 Cannes closing entry from the veteran French director, although the emotion it evokes will be of a more saharan variety--more dispassion than passion. Indeed, like a climb of a hill, Lelouch's latest seems more an exercise in cinematics, more arduous than ardor, in its tale of an English thief (Jeremy Irons) and a Parisian chanteuse (Patricia Kaas) who both suffer from blackouts and whose fates chance to bring them together in the North African land with a brain surgeon (Jean-Marie Bigard). Among the improbabilities, Lelouch seems to be probing what drives a human when he or she exists in a sort of solitary confinement: here, a man whose dream is of a round-the-world solo sail, a woman who has relinquished romance as something that will never be for her. Meanwhile, just beyond the horizon, lurks the coming night of death: here, tumor.
One can see what attracted Irons; beyond the opportunity to work with a master, the actor gets to inhabit a disguise-laden role in which, inside his thief's basic intrigue, are yet more intrigues. Unlike the Brit-born Irons, who boasts a filmography from "The French Lieutenant's Woman" through "The Time Machine," Kaas has a discography: Born a miner's daughter in the Lorraine region now grown to world-music fame, Kaas is comfortable with being a focus, whether of crowds or camera; she doesn't bring a great deal of depth to her role (or it to her, perhaps), but as the onscreen performer of a number of songs throughout Kaas fills the bill. The enigmatic quality of her facial structure also pairs intriguingly with Irons' intense gazes, especially within the script's thematic confines. Consider "And Now... Ladies & Gentlemen" as one small CAT scan of self, a bit of existentialism put to melody. Starring Jeremy Irons, Patricia Kaas, Thierry Lhermitte and Alessandra Martines. Directed by Claude Lelouch. Written by Claude Lelouch, Pierre Leroux and Pierre Uytterhoeven. Produced by Claude Lelouch, Martine Kampf-Dussart, Paul Hitchcock and Rick Senat. A Paramount Classics release. Drama. French- and English-language. Rated PG-13 for momentary language. Running time: 133 min