At 84 years old, Alain Resnais can be forgiven for not getting out much: rather than giving Alan Ayckbourn’s source play the regulation walk-and-talk “opening-up,” Private Fears in Public Places keeps primarily to five interior sets, and scenes shaped by entrances and exits; Resnais superimposes snowfall as he dissolves from location to location, and flakes dust the shoulders of characters as they duck out of the cold and into the narrative. It’s a cozy space for a cozy movie, one that sighs along with the tentative reaching-outs between six flow-chartable characters: an aging real estate agent, pining in a most undignified way for his pious assistant and living with his much younger, blind-dating sister; a fracturing couple; a solitary barkeep saddled with an (always offscreen) bedridden father. The gentle tone and autumnal preoccupations — severed connections, resignation to loneliness — place Private Fears squarely in the realm of the Muted Revelation, tuned to the frequency of a short story collection you keep on your bedside table — in the non-pejorative sense. (“In the non-pejorative” sense being just about the most pejorative qualifier I know of notwithstanding.)
Within the friendly confines of Public Places (the title, Ayckbourn’s, makes precious little sense, though the French title, Coeurs — “Hearts” — is hardly an improvement) Resnais is a patient director, doting on the quavering upper lips of his stock company of performers. And he and cinematographer Eric Gautier find the intimate arrangement conducive to playfulness, indulging in subjective lighting, using frosted glass panels and neon bead curtains as foreground filters, and counterpointing key beats with stylistic non-sequiturs. Maybe the reason Resnais doesn’t venture outdoors is because he feels utterly at home where he is.