"A Night in Versailles" and "Another Girl, Another Planet" are both shortish comedies about the anxious relations between the sexes. But in every other way they're as dissimilar as two films can be and still share the same host medium. They form the engagingly offbeat program that will be shown at the Museum of Modern Art today at 6 P.M. and on Saturday at 9 P.M. as part of the New Directors/New Films series.
The French-made, 47-minute "Night in Versailles" was directed by Bruno Podalydes and written by him and his brother Denis, who also plays the hilariously hapless central character. The film is a boisterous farce in the spirit of Feydeau, updated to the 1990's and scaled down to the dimensions of an especially small two-room flat.
Michael Almereyda's 56-minute "Another Girl, Another Planet" is something else entirely. It's as American as the East Village walk-up in which it was made, and as comically angst-ridden and gray as its images. "Another Girl, Another Planet" was initially shot on a Fisher-Price Pixel toy video camera, then transferred to 16-millimeter film.
In this blow-up of the original tape, backgrounds appear to shimmer, as if molten, when the camera pans too fast. Dimly seen characters aren't always recognizable, and spoken words dissolve like cigarette smoke before they reach the ears. Yet what would be disadvantages in any other film become part of the texture of this comedy about the search for life's meaning and someone to go to bed with. The film's solemn ideas, like the characters who express them, are earnestly fuzzy.
A confession is in order here: it took me a second viewing to catch the rhythm as well as a good deal of the dialogue of "Another Girl, Another Planet." It follows the French film on the museum program to its disadvantage. Because "A Night in Versailles" is all bright color and bold, carefully choreographed movement, it takes a while to adjust to the miasmic conceits of "Another Girl, Another Planet."
The adjustment is worth the effort. Here is a singularly comic, deadpan appreciation of the feckless lives of a casual womanizer named Bill (Barry Sherman), his married pal Nic (Nic Ratner), who lives just downstairs, Nic's wife, Prudence (Lisa Perisot), and the other women who pass through their apartments. Everyone in the film appears to be at a different plateau in the upward quest for enlightenment. Some -- like Nic, who drinks too much, and Bill, whose laid-back manner disguises his desperate need for women -- may still be at the bottom of enlightenment's ladder.
Among the women who walk in and out of Bill's life are Ramona (Mary Ward), a member of a rock group for which she sings back-up and shakes a tambourine, and Finley (Isabel Gilles), the most intense and affecting of the young women. Finley, a receptionist at the Museum of Modern Art, is recovering from her husband's death from cancer, an event she describes in detail that is far funnier than you might expect. There's also Mia (Elina Lowensohn), an exotic-looking Romanian whose truisms ("Eventually you learn you're no good unless you love yourself") seem to make her even more attractive to Bill.
Though they are living on the cheap, Bill and Nic seem to be no more than a subway ride from the Upper East or West Side comfort of indulgent families. Mr. Almereyda, who wrote and directed "Another Girl, Another Planet," was earlier responsible for the more conventional yet still pretty bizarre feature "Twister," about a supremely disfunctional family in the Middle West.
"A Night in Versailles" demonstrates with great gusto and style the extent to which disasters can accumulate after one small lie has been told. Arnaud (Denis Podalydes), a fussy young man, has invited Claire (Isabelle Candelier) out from Paris to have supper with him at his tiny apartment in Versailles. The frozen moussaka is ready to be defrosted when she arrives. Then, because of a plumbing problem that need not be explained, Arnaud invites his brother to come by, too.
In the course of the evening, in which the lights go out, an intimate little dinner for two becomes a noisy circus that involves two of Arnaud's brothers, the building's opinionated janitor, the members of an orchestra and a very drunk young woman to whom someone gives a radish to settle her stomach. Like every decision Arnaud makes in the course of the night, the radish has unfortunate results.