Manon (Catherine Deneuve) is at a Japanese airport preparing to return to Paris with her boyfriend when she is noticed by François (Sami Frey) across the lounge and he is instantly smitten with her beauty. So much so that, knowing they will be on the same aeroplane out of the city, he asks the woman at the desk if he can upgrade his ticket to be in first class with Manon, who has noticed him as well, especially when they sit nearly beside one another, close enough for François to look around and catch her eye. Once the journey is over, they are all three standing outside the airport when he murmurs an invite to Manon to step into his cab; she gets into her boyfriend's car, then after a moment's thought jumps in beside François, starting a new relationship on the spot...
There is a trend that continues to this day for adapting classic novels to the modern day setting, and Manon 70 was an adaptation of the Abbé Prévost novel from the eighteenth century about a couple of lovers who flee the man's disapproving parents in search of the woman's interest in the finer things in life, which she gets through her sexual freedoms. It was famous in France for being much-banned thanks to its scandalous plot, but by the time director Jean Aurel brought it to the big screen set in the present (for 1968 - not 1970, as you might have thought) Manon was seeming either more like a spirit of an age that had caught up with her, or on watching a curiously awkward way of realising a classic.
That the source's narrative wouldn't be convincing in the world of the late sixties was a problem, so Aurel got over the issue by rewriting it so far that it was almost unrecognisable, keeping very little except the passionate affair at its heart. There was no tragedy here for the characters to lead up to, and therefore very little dramatic heft, you were simply watching a young woman who tended to bring out the worst in men bulldozing her way through the lives of anyone who can assist her in living the high life. François works as a reporter in the broadcast media and apparently the sole method he can keep up with his lover is to put all her demands on his expense account, so you can imagine how well that goes down with his boss eventually.
Not that you're particularly on his side, if he's the hero he's an anti-hero as no sooner than he's met Manon than he's sharing a bath with her, which turns abruptly into him raping her, something she is initially horrified by but then bafflingly takes as a token of his passion, as if this indicates he is hers for as long as she cares to toy with him. With sexual politics like that not improved by François's habit of slapping her around when he is inevitably frustrated by his girlfriend, you do not warm to him in the least, and have your misgivings about Manon as well when she proves flighty as her brother (Jean-Claude Brialy) essentially pimps her out to the highest bidder to keep him in clover as well as his sister. Before long she has American businessman Ravaggi (Robert Webber) proposing to her.
Which she pretends to accept, but he's just as much of a sucker as those other blokes she leaves in her wake, leading to an ending which bizarrely after all we have seen attempts wry humour and a reconciliation out of a sitcom rather than the downer of the novel. You could regard Manon 70 as an item of nostalgia for the type of movie they don't make anymore, yet the further it progresses the more you want to be thankful for that fact as the characters behave like some culture from another planet, never mind another era. Deneuve was as classy as ever and against the odds rendered her performance with a lot more coherence than you would have thought possible - she was hired for a reason, not just her icon of French cinema status (already by '68!), but also because she had the dramatic ability to paper over the numerous cracks in Aurel's scenario. The actors around her fared less well, never getting under the skin of their screen personalities and leaving little but a bunch of unlikeable creeps who resort to stalker-like tendencies to keep Manon theirs. Serge Gainsbourg did some of the music.