All Men Are Mortal: Amour Fou Starring Irene Jacob and Stephen Rea

Seattle Film Festival 1995–Based on Simone de Beauvoir’s novel, All Men Are Mortal is an eccentric rendition of amour fou, a whimsical yet philosophical meditation on love, mortality and other existential issues rarely tackled on screen these days.

Headed by an international cast that includes Irene Jacob and Stephen Rea, ambitious pic is appealing in an idiosyncratic way and has some potential on the fest and arthouse circuits, but commercial outlook appears negligible stateside.

Though execution falls short of intent, Dutch director Ate de Jong and co-scripter Steven Gaydos (who has owned the screen rights to the book for 18 years) deserve credit for their courageous commitment to make a film that would have never been made in the U.S. and is very seldom produced even in Europe. All Men Are Mortal is a romantic film of ideas, peppered with shards of sophisticated humor and detached irony.

Story centers in Regina (Jacob), a celebrated stage actress and temperamental diva, as she assays title role of Hamlet, aspiring to the legendary status of Sarah Bernhardt. She’s involved in a relationship with a black musician, but clearly something crucial is missing from her life–personal fulfillment and some sense of stability.

During a triumphant tour of the provinces, Regina encounters a mysterious stranger, Fosca (Stephen Rea), a man totally oblivious to the outside world and its mundane pleasures; he’s introduced sitting in a hotel garden, indifferent to the pouring rain. Assisted by her loyal dresser (Marianne Sagebrecht), Regina breaks into Fosca’s room, only to find an empty space, with no clothes or belongings save some papers indicating that he is an amnesia patient, recently released from asylum.

Motivated by unbearable curiosity, Regina follows him and gradually a timid relationship evolves, to the utter amazement of the theatrical troupe and loyal friends. In their mutually inspiring rendezvous, which form the dramatic core of the film, they exchanged ideas and feelings about the nature of love, the meaning of life and death, and so on.

All Men Are Mortal is the kind of whimsical movie in which the characters are not necessarily in touch with their emotions. In one moment they may make grand statements about their lives, only to contradict them in the next with the most erratic conduct. In one of the film’s many ironic touches, which American audiences may find hard to digest, Fosca is determined to prove his immortality as well as his desire for Regina. In the midst of a lively chat, he slits his throat, then, bleeding, makes passionate love to her on the floor.

Set in Paris right after the Second World War, the story captures marvelously the zeitgeist of these fervent years: the roots of the existential movement that Sartre and Beauvoir founded, the stimulating coffee shop culture, the smoky jazz clubs populated by black musicians, the moody rhythms of chansoniers like Piaf.

Above all, the movie displays the unpredictable twists and turns in the characters’ bizarre behavior. For instance, in a boxing match, attended by Paris’ crme de la crme, a prizefighter steps aside to make an outrageous philosophical statement, which in this context is utterly credible. In another surprising scene, Regina, on the verge of breaking into movies, shockingly announces her retirement from the stage.

The film’s most impressive aspect is its writing, which conveys quite authentically the era’s ferment as well as the characters’ idiosyncratic personalities. Focusing only on the first part of the book, the scripters changed its point of view from a male to a female one.

Helmer de Jong spices the proceedings with some drollery and wit, but overall his direction is unassured, failing to provide his rambling pic the finely modulated tempo it requires–not an easy task, considering that the mood of the piece changes literally from one scene to the next. The disjointed storytelling, dictated by the source material, is further undermined by uneven acting.

Of the two leads, only Rea renders the requisite eccentricity in an extremely demanding role that calls for equal measure of sanity and lunacy, innocence and disenchantment. But the film exposes Jacob’s limitations as an actress. Though luminously beautiful, she lacks the range and depth to play a temperamental diva; part calls for a young Jeanne Moreau or Emmanuele Riva. As large sections of the dialogue were looped, her performance–and voice–lacks consistency.

Due to budgetary constraints, pic was largely shot in Budapest, but it has a good period feel, enhanced by Bruno de Keyser’s (‘Round Midnight) lensing and Ben van Os’ (Orlando) exquisite design.


A Nova Films production. Produced by Matthijs van Heijningen and Rudolf Wichmann. Directed by Ate de Jong. Screenplay, de Jong, Olwen Wymark, Steven Gaydos, based on Simone de Beauvoir’s novel. Camera (color), Bruno de Kyzer; editor, Nicolas Gaster; production design, Ben van Os; sound (Dolby), Godfrey Kirby. Reviewed at the Seattle International Film Fest, June 8, 1995. Running time: 94 min.


Fosca………….Stephen Rea
Regina…………Irene Jacob
Annie…..Marianne Sagebrecht
Francoise..Chiara Mastroianni