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In A Gentle Occupation (1980), Bogarde's military-life setting--British-occupied postwar Indonesia--provided a sturdy, historically resonant counterpoint to some exquisitely sentimental relationships. Here, however, the setting is an oasis of fading elegance in the south of France--which makes for a rather more precious, pastel-on-pastel entertainment. Bogarde's hero is Marcus Pollock, the young, quite gorgeous, cast-off son of two failed British actors; he now works for a London company which rents props for photographers and cinema; and on the side he's a nude model for a discreet studio serving ""clients of particular interests."" But then, in France, Marcus just happens to rescue Lady Peverill--known as ""Cuckoo"" and still ""smashing"" at 68--from an attempted suicide-by-drowning (because of bad news from a London doctor). And, after swearing secrecy, Marcus is welcomed to the Peverills' Villa Tritton by repentant Cuckoo and her 70-year-old husband Archie--a fine, trim, scholarly historian who identifies with Napoleon and is thrilled by Marcus' resemblance to Napoleon's only son, ""L'Aiglon."" Also welcomed to the villa is Marcus' girl, Leni Minx, a wan German waif who has her secret: she's really the Countess Luisa von Lansfeld, but she's in the grip of a non-guilt-ridden, non-German fantasy life, sharing Marcus' flat, sardines, and saltines. And all these fantasizers are soon joined by a yacht-load of celluloid illusionists: fascistic, smooth-flanked director Umberto Grottorosso, who's doing a L'Aiglon flick; his inadequate L'Aiglon, a mild hunk named Wolf; busty star Sylva; assorted supporting players; and Grottorosso's American aunt Minerva, a straight-shooting oracle who announces that Wolf ""comes off the screen like melted tar."" So, as a picnic ensues (the food is a veritable poem), Grottorosso stalks a new star in Marcus, via a ""rape"" by Sylva; and back at sea the director, now smitten with the possibilities of a lustier L'Aiglon, carves up Wolf. But Marcus will take an appropriate revenge, Cuckoo will have a few last fabulous flights of excitement. . . and little Leni will Tell All. Bogarde's narration this time leans toward the too-too clever (""the table cloths flew about the garden like demented nuns""), and the often-bitchy dialogue is sometimes over-sequinned: ""You are mad, you know, completely mad""/""Oh, I know and it is so marvelous."" But for those not fussed by the super-mannered, near-camp sensibility, it's a funny, bright, and lusciously decadent diversion.

Pub Date: Sept. 23rd, 1981
Publisher: Knopf