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MOMENTS after she declares to her lover that her career is failing because ''they want younger ones,'' a photographer's model is killed in an automobile accident. The dead woman's 29-year-old lover and her 14-year-old daughter barely bother to shed a tear before embarking on the lengthy flirtation that Bertrand Blier's new movie, ''Beau Pere,'' is about. The lover resists the daughter's advances for a while, protesting, ''I'm not old quite old enough to go for little girls.'' But he turns out to be wrong.

So ''Beau Pere,'' which opens tonight at the New York Film Festival and Sunday at the Baronet, would seem to have one of the more objectionable premises from a director (''Going Places'' and ''Get Out Your Handkerchiefs'') who is no stranger to objectionable tales. But ''Beau Pere,'' far from echoing the misogyny of Mr. Blier's earlier work, sounds a halfway sentimental note. If the affair between stepfather and stepdaughter is presented with something less than Nabokovian acuity, its exploitative side is also minimal. In fact, Mr. Blier tells this story very gently, with as much attention to the humor of the situation as to its eroticism.

It is Marion (Ariel Besse) who instigates the romance, over the protestations of Remy (Patrick DeWaere). Marion goes after her man with a determination that becomes amusing, especially when she announces, ''I'm just here - available - the woman-as-object.'' She's nothing of the kind, in spite of the way Mr. Blier's camera lingers over Miss Besse's coltish good looks.

Marion, as Miss Besse plays her, is an extremely changeable creature, childish one minute and precocious the next, and her variability keeps Remy off guard. The film begins with a brief appearance by Nicole Garcia and ends with a particularly disarming performance by Nathalie Baye. But during the lengthy middle portion of the story, Mr. Blier never shows any adult women who might emphasize Marion's girlishness. He wants to make the range of her attitudes seem as remarkable to the audience as it does to Remy, and he succeeds.

Though ''Beau Pere'' exhibits no real emotion over the mother's death, the child's bereavement or anyone's loss of innocence, it does get off to an extremely morose start. Mr. DeWaere is in an unenviable position in this lengthy section of the movie, because he is called on to do indulge in prodigious and unrelieved self-pity. He works as a cocktail pianist, and so the soundtrack is filled with bluesy piano music; to this accompaniment, Mr. DeWaere wrestles silently and tremulously with his conscience. Far from signaling anyone's moral downfall, the onset of the affair comes as a relief, insofar as it means that Stephane Grappelli's violin will now dominate the soundtrack and Mr. DeWaere will show signs of life.

Once he acclimates his audience to the idea of the stepfatherstepdaughter liaison, Mr. Blier depicts the romance very sweetly. Never entirely abandoning his misgivings, Remy makes the courtship a mixture of apprehensiveness and celebration. And Marion, far from being injured by the attentions of a man twice her age, appears to flourish. As in the earlier, teasing portion of the movie, there's a false naivete at work here. But there's also a great deal of conviction. Mr. Blier's considerable accomplishment is to make his own directorial motives appear almost as ingenuous as those of the lovers.

''Beau Pere,'' which Mr. Blier has described as ''an ode to the fair sex and to womanhood in its purest form,'' is not a particularly knowing work. But it's a tender, entertaining one. And if the high spirits that filled ''Get Out Your Handkerchiefs'' and ''Going Places'' are somewhat subdued here, so are the uglier, more contemptuous elements of those films. Their absence isn't anything to mourn.
Date Added: 04/19/2013 by Manuchar
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