When his wife leaves him, a young French actor, François Combe, moves to New York to work for a television company. One evening, he meets an attractive young woman, Kay Larsi, in a bar. She is as lost and unhappy as he is, alone after her friend and flatmate Jessie left her. François and Kay become lovers, initially renting a room in a hotel before moving into François’ apartment. When François finds out that Kay is not only the wife of a diplomat, but also a wealthy countess who ran off with a gigolo, he begins to have doubts about the relationship. Then Kay announces she must return to her home in Mexico to visit her sick daughter…
Although clearly a comparatively minor work when set along side Marcel Carné’s earlier masterpieces, Trois chambres à Manhattan is nonetheless a striking piece of 1960s cinema – a sombre, melancholic study of solitude and yearning set, for the most part, in the forbidding barren streets of New York City. Above all else, the film shows Carné’s willingness and ability to embrace modernity and make a film which is just as relevant and contemporary as anything his rivals, the New Wave directors, were able to come up with. The moody jazz soundtrack at the start of the film reinforces the sense of isolation and pessimism and gives the film its timeless feeling of haunting existentialist gloom.
Unfortunately, after a stunning and evocative start, the film has difficulty developing and soon shifts into a rather ordinary melodrama. This would doubtless have greatly weakened the film if it were not for the compelling performances from Maurice Ronet (who appears to be reprising his role from Louis Malle’s Le Feu Follet) and Annie Girardot (who was awarded the Grand Prize at Venice in 1965 for her role in this film). The film also marks the first screen appearance of Robert de Niro (aged 22) in a brief walk-on part.
– James Travers