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Manoel de Oliveira
"La Princesse de Cleves" was released at the wrong time.The reasons are obvious:
1. It was the heyday of the nouvelle vague and Jean Delannoy was a laughing stock for all these directors."He does not live his movies" was what M.Godard used to say.I'm not sure M.Godard used to live His.
2.The mainstream audience mistook the movie for a swashbuckler entertaining yarn , a genre which was very popular in France at the time .It was after all a costume movie and Jean Marais was par excellence the sword hero.
So nobody was satisfied and the film died commercial and artistic death.It should be restored to favor now,because ,simply, it's really a beautiful movie which has stood the test of time quite well,as well as ,say, Jacques Rivette's "la religieuse" .
There's a contrast ,in "la princesse de Clèves" between the brightness and the beauty of the cinematography -several sequences are stunning:the first one,the magnificent ball ,one of the most entrancing openin scene ever filmed and the last one,when the duc de Nemours comes to the lodge in a misty morning ,is awesome- and the screenplay,which is very austere,and might put off some viewers .Madame de la Fayette 's novel tells a story of passion,but a passion which struggles with reason and duty.Some people said that Marina Vlady's performance was remote and that her feelings could not reach us:that's partly true.But It 's a woman from the sixteenth century depicted by another woman from the seventeenth!Jean Cocteau's adaptation,if he wanted to be faithful to De la Fayette's work had to invent another psychology ,another language (the dialogue is very precious and literary).
Jean Delannoy 's directing,icily impersonal,is very effective here.The cast and credits,at the beginning , fit the movie like a glove.We see the characters as some Madame Tussaud statues.Cocteau's favorite actor,Jean Marais gives a wonderful performance:his prince de Clèves is oozing with suffering and longing to be loved.His commitment to his role is extraordinary.This was the great thespian's farewell to youth as well as his last great part,with the eventual exception of Jacques Demy's "peau d'âne"(1970).
The ending slightly differs from the novel-Madame de La Fayette simply says that Madame De Clèves 's life was rather short-but Cocteau found an adequate equivalent.
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