All You Need Is the Importance of Love

THAT MOST IMPORTANT THING: LOVE (1975)

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Though you wouldn’t know it from the mainstream press, one of the biggest losses to the film community last year was the death of filmmaker Andrzej Zulawski, a dazzling Polish filmmaker who stirred up attention both positive and negative from critics and his government in the early 1970s with The Devil (1972). He wound up relocating to France where he made the lion’s share of his later work, the first of which was L’important c’est d’aimer (1975). Translating that title elegantly into English is a tricky feat; American distributor Seaberg Film Distribution tried its best with its dubbed 1977 version called The Most Important Thing: Love, while others try to smooth it out as The Main Thing Is to Love or The Importance of Love. However, none of those Baz Luhrmann-style monikers really give you an idea of what’s really in store in this deeply affecting and wildly flamboyant portrait of passion and artistry that’s unlike anything else you’ll ever see.

In a film loaded with impressive and unexpected casting, the real winner here from the opening frames is Romy Schneider, the hugely popular Austrian-born actress who rose to fame in the beloved Sissi series (also available on FilmStruck) about her native country’s most famous empress. We’re a long way from that territory here as we first see a tearful Schneider as a negligee-clad actress struggling to deliver a declaration of love to her blood-soaked, dying boyfriend while urging visiting photographer Servais (Fabio Testi) to spare her the degradation of his camera gaze. (“I only do this to eat… No photos.”) Combined with the operatic swells of Georges Delerue’s arresting music, it’s a curtain raiser that grabs you right by the throat and makes you wonder how the heck Romy never earned a single Oscar nomination. At least the French knew better and bestowed her first César Award for this performance in its very first ceremony ever.

THAT MOST IMPORTANT THING: LOVE (1975)

In case you’re not up on your Italian action films and thrillers, Testi – who’s still busy acting his heart out – seems like an odd casting choice now since he’s best known for appearing in films like The Heroin Busters (1977), China 9, Liberty 37 (1978), The Big Racket (1976) and What Have You Done to Solange? (1972); he’s a guy you almost always see carrying a gun or tackling someone to the ground. Here he gets to show off his more tortured and sensitive side, one that was being groomed to what should have been international star status after films like The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1970) and the jolting, highly underrated ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore (1971). His combination of screen presence and acting chops serves him well here (even speaking French!) as a man who decides to swim even deeper with the loan sharks that are already making his life quite uncomfortable, all as a romantic gesture to provide a quality stage role for Schneider’s character, Nadine, in a very Zulawski-esque production of Richard III.

That means the film also shifts gears whenever the title character of that play steps into view: Klaus Kinski at his Klaus Kinski-est as a mad German actor who seems like he’s about to explode into flames at any second. It’s a shame Zulawski didn’t cast Kinski in additional films as the director’s trademark roving, swooping and diving camerawork often feels like an extension of Kinski’s famously unhinged psyche; if you thought Kinski’s Werner Herzog films were something else, get a load of this one! In between crazy grace notes like gender-bending bodybuilders and blood-covered rolls of film, Kinski manages to catapult this one through the cult movie stratosphere with his wild-eyed Shakespearean soliloquies as Zulawski’s camera does its best to keep up with him. (When you get to the 64-minute mark, fasten your seatbelt!) From a certain perspective, you could say that this is one of the greatest films about the experience of theater actors, diving deep into the intensity, commitment and heartbreak of delivering a live performance that forces actors to plumb the most uncomfortable depths of their souls.

Then there’s the most mainstream name in the film, French pop singer Jacques Dutronc (husband of the legendary Françoise Hardy), who’s surprisingly manic here as well as the Hollywood and Nescafe-loving husband of Nadine who throws a serious wrench in the film’s romantic relationship and delivers lines like “I dreamt you were pouring Coca-Cola in my ear. A nasty death!” Make no mistake; this is not your average French love story by a long shot.

As for Zulawski, you can see him already sowing the seeds for two of his later masterpieces. Possession (1981), his most well-known film among English-speaking audiences, picks up on the themes of marital strife, infidelity and unstable spouses and runs it straight into the darkest circle of hell imaginable while picking up on this film’s evocative use of cafes and public bathrooms as psychological and physical battlefields. Then there’s Zulawski’s one “stage” adaptation, Boris Gudounov (1989), which turns the Mussorgsky opera into a mind-bending cascade of lavish set pieces and outlandish production design that feels like a feature-length extension of this film’s Richard III sequences.

THAT MOST IMPORTANT THING: LOVE (1975)

But back to Schneider, one of the greatest of all European leading ladies of the era and one of the most tragic. Her beautiful but haunted presence could be tricky to use correctly on screen, but especially when she moved into this golden period with filmmakers like Zulawski, Claude Sautet, Luchino Visconti and Claude Chabrol, she shone like few other actresses before or since. Along with Bertrand Tavernier’s knockout (and chillingly prophetic) Death Watch (1980), this film may be the most searing work she ever did on film, and it’s guaranteed to make you an instant fan. Tragically, she died in 1982 at the age of 44, not long after the accidental death of her son David; looking at her body of work, it’s astonishing to think how little time she got to spend among us but still managed to produce a remarkable body of work.

Nathaniel Thompson

1 Response All You Need Is the Importance of Love
Posted By Rodney Welch : May 21, 2017 2:35 pm

I’ve wanted to see this film ever since I saw Xan Cassavetes’ superb 2004 documentary “Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession.” I had never heard of it at all, and wondered how it had passed my notice. Naturally, I watched it as soon as it was available on FilmStruck, and I saw to say: this movie is just so out there I’m not really sure how I feel about it. It’s overwhelmingly, aggressively lush, and kind of alienating. (Was Zulawski trying to out-Fassbinder Fassbinder?) I’m assuming that’s why it’s kind of a cult film, why it never found a wide American audience, why it’s all but impossible to find any reviews of it from mainstream American film critics. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a romantic drama that resembles it. The acting, particularly by Schneider and Dutronc, is superb, but all the sheer emotionalism of the style worked against it I think. It’s a very pushy and somewhat obnoxious romantic melodrama.

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