Two decades before the term "sexual addiction" became fodder for mainstream pop culture exploitation, French director François Truffaut turned in this uncommonly delicate, painfully amusing, and as of yet unequalled study of the now-overexposed malady. Charles Denner stars as Bertrand, a man who falls in love, if only briefly, with nearly every woman he meets. Aware of, but still captive to, his obsessions, Bertrand pours all of his relevant recollections into a memoir, revelling in each affair, reeling from the disappointment of every break-up, and revealing the formative relationships that made him a man suffering from the loneliness of chronic romance.
Even in the hands of a careful auteur like Truffaut, it seems probable that a frank, semi-comic look at the sexual politics of 1970s France might be hard to stomach in the current climate of acute sensitivity to any predatory male behavior, but The Man Who Loved Women (1977) (a.k.a. L'homme qui aimait les femmes) is disarmingly sensitive. Bertrand, although prone to instant infatuations, is never lewd or cynical; he feels every thunderbolt of lust quite sincerely, and Denner's performance exudes a wonderfully resigned melancholy. Even with objectification of women at the core of Bertrand's affliction, Truffaut and his actresses — notably Brigitte Fossey, Nelly Borgeaud, Geneviève Fontanel, Leslie Caron, Nathalie Baye and Valérie Bonnier — perfectly humanize every one of their characters, realizing not only their agency as a party to mutual attraction but also their weary tolerance of a system rarely rigged in their favor.
The only false note in The Man Who Loved Women comes very early, as Bertrand inexplicably overlooks (and Truffaut underutilizes) the absolutely charming Baye. This alarming sin aside, Denner is as bracingly honest as Truffaut's treatment is unsensational, putting The Man Who Loved Women on par with the best observational relationship dramedies of fellow French New Wave-er Eric Rohmer. It's hard to imagine the 1983 Hollywood remake — directed by the sometimes crass Blake Edwards and starring the often smarmy Burt Reynolds — achieving anywhere near the refined balance and moving empathy of this perceptive glimpse at a facet of male nature that is imminently relatable but no longer openly tolerated in polite society.
The Man Who Loved Women was brought to my Potluck Film Fest by Flickcharter Grant Douglas Bromley, who can be found on Flickchart under the username grantvbromley. He ranks it on his chart at #81 / 1763 (95%), where it's his 2nd favorite sex comedy out of 24. The Man Who Loved Women ranked on my Flickchart at #534 / 3784 (86%), where it's my 15th favorite out of 62 sex comedies.