By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated August 04, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

The comely french actress Juliette Binoche can express a hundred variations of repression, melancholy, and devotion with her anthracite eyes. In Alice and Martin, André Téchiné’s torpid, shadowy story of an emotionally wounded young man and the woman who loves him, Binoche sleepwalks through Paris as Alice, a glum violinist who is living with Benjamin (Mathieu Amalric), an actor, when she meets his half-brother, Martin (Alexis Loret). Sparks fly, or at least damp-wood smoke rises, from the two disconsolate soul mates.

Benjamin is the wild homosexual one, but Martin trumps that: He’s the distrustful illegitimate one, born to a flirtatious single mother (Almodovar regular Carmen Maura) who, like free spirits the movie world over, is a hairdresser. And abandonment by his father has played a number on Martin’s head. Although he becomes a well-paid model in Paris, and although Alice is willing to follow him anywhere (the two spend travelogue time in Spain and southwest France), he cracks under the strain of a ”happy” life.

As he did in previous, far more emotionally involving films, including Wild Reeds and Ma Saison Preferée, Téchiné studies the unfathomable, unbreakable bonds that bind family, unite friends, and hook lovers by peering at relationships, first from this angle, then from that, like an impressionist painter. In the best of his films, the layering of short, intense scenes coalesces like daubs of color to form a more deeply shaded psychological portrait. Martin, though, eludes perspective and contour. We see that he’s been stunted by his past, but we never fully understand the man behind the handsome mask, or why he awakens such loyalty in his badly treated lover. It’s as if, in exploring the scars that shape these personalities, Téchiné has forgotten to color in the flesh. C+