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An episodic look at Grace Elliott (1760-1823) and Philippe, the Duke of Orleans, during the French Revolution. In 1790, they are friends, no longer lovers. He suggests she leave France, she warns him to quit the Revolution. In 1792, she must escape Paris on foot. Less than a month later, she returns on an errand of mercy and shows great courage saving the governor of Tuileries. The Duke in turn steps in to protect Grace. In early 1793, she demands a promise from the Duke that he vote to spare Louis's life; he does not, and Grace is furious. In April, he warns her of a search; she is arrested and brought before the committee. Orleans, too, is suspect. The guillotine awaits. Written by
Erich Rohmer uses the latest in digital technology to tell the tale of a Scottish upper class lady who gets caught in Paris during the outbreak of the French Revolution.
Erich Rohmer's "L'Anglaise et le duc" makes a perfect companion piece to Peter Watkins' "La Commune (Paris 1871)." Both films -screened at this year's Toronto International Film Festival- ironically illustrate how history is shaped to by the tellers of the tale. Ironic, given the tragic events that were taking place in the U.S. during the festival.
Set in Paris during the French Revolution, the movie, based on Grace Elliott's (Lucy Russell) "Memoirs," is a first-hand account of how she survived those heady but dangerous days. She also details her relationship with The Duke of Orleans (played by Jean-Claude Dreyfus), who, in contrast to herself, is a supporter of the Revolution.
True to form, you don't know whose side of history Rohmer is going to come down on. One of the earliest of the French "New Wave" filmmakers, Rohmer has often been criticized for being too conservative. After all, in the midst of the rebelling-youth-Viet-Nam days of the late 60s and 70s, he was filming romantic little confections like "Claire's Knee." But don't sell the old boy short, folks, he's always been a student of human nature, not an ideologue, and "L'Anglaise et le duc" continues to bear this out.
Rohmer's characters are never the "bad guys" nor the "good guys'; they are first and foremost human beings who are capable of exhibiting a full range of human potentialities -and limitations. That's why his movies are always provocative, and this film is no exception.
Now for the technological nuts and bolts.
Rohmer, though making his way into his 80s, is still on the cutting-edge of cinematic innovation. The look of "L'Anglaise" is like something you've never seen before. You guessed it, the old guy -like several of the festival's directors this year- has gone digital.
All of the movie's exterior scenes look as though they are taking place in their original 1780s Parisian settings. As a matter of fact, you may get so distracted from marveling at the authenticity of the film's look you may have to go back for a second screening to catch the subtleties of the film's psychological -and yes, I'll say it- political insights.
Toronto features some of the world's edgiest young filmmakers this year, as well as some of the world's oldest. And the old masters are standing there on cinema's cutting-edges right alongside the young ones.
Long live youth. Long live old age. And long live Erich Rohmer.
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