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Nahuel Pérez Biscayart,
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Juan Diego Botto
TV biopic recommended for Catherine Deneuve's admirers
This mini-series is certainly worth your time if you are into Freud, psychoanalysis and Catherine Deneuve. It tells the life story (well, the highlights) of Princess Marie Bonaparte (read eva2at's review for plot details), and obliquely throws some light on Freud's last years, roughly from 1925 to his death in 1939. Marie Bonaparte's life was so eventful and well documented (by herself, in extensive journals) that this 3+ hour mini-series at times seems short to do it justice, but anyhow we do get to know a fair deal about this controversial woman who lived the conflict of being -- all in one -- an anachronistic princess (by birth and by marriage) in a world that where royalty had lost its political power, as well as a woman ahead of her time fighting for self-knowledge, women's rights, sexual fulfillment and independence.
We witness Marie's relationship with her era, her family (including her hag of a grandmother and her closeted gay husband), her lovers, and above all, with Freud and his family: we mustn't forget she was the main responsible for getting Freud safely out of Nazi-ruled Vienna and convincing him not to destroy his correspondence with Fliess (she bought and safeguarded herself these all-important letters for posterity). Both Freud and his daughter Anna adored her and she had practically become a member of the Freud family in his final years, as Peter Gay avows in his monumental Freud biography. Marie became (with Freud's hearty support) a psychoanalyst herself, practicing until her death in 1962, and was personally chosen by Freud to lead the psychoanalytical movement in France.
I'm not a Freud scholar, so I can't tell about the verisimilitude of Marie's psychoanalytical sessions with Freud (things were probably more complicated than what's shown here), but the production designers did their homework in depicting Freud's famous Berggasse 19 house and office, with his valuable collection of objets d'art, the oriental rugs and the famous divan.
However, the film has its fair amount of flaws: many scenes seem to have been shot in a hurry, the supporting characters are shamefully underdeveloped, it looks like many scenes have been chopped and a there's a lot of loose ends (what happened to Marie's son Pierre? Did he marry the Russian Irene? Who was Eugénie's husband again? What happened to Freud's will? etc) but the essential angles of Marie's+Freud's relationship are there. Incidentally, a bigger budget was in dire need, as director Benoît Jacquot can only "suggest" the "big scenes" (her extensive travels, the royal receptions, the Nazi crowds); he has to use archive footage of Vienna, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, the Amazon and the rise of Nazism, though you can rely on Deneuve wearing fabulous wardrobe (well, she plays a princess!).
It's been some time since Catherine Deneuve really plunged into a part as she does here. We all know how great she can be when she's really interested and -- now that she no longer has the "burden" of proving to be an "ageless beauty", although it's true that she CAN look 15 years younger in medium shots -- she benefits from this one-of-a-kind character, perfectly suited to her personality and range as an actress. Deneuve's Marie is regal, rebellious, sensitive, outspoken, authoritarian, practical, selfish, loyal, vain, brave and committed. It's a full-blooded character that emerges and Deneuve's engaging performance is at its most effective in the analytical sessions when experiencing traumatic insights -- she really goes for it. A proof of her maturity as an actress and a woman.
Heinz Bennent's Freud is equally fascinating. It's interesting to notice that, at the time of filming, Bennent was (amazingly!) 83, the age of Freud when he died in 1939. Bennent carefully builds Freud's character not only through remarkable physical resemblance but in successfully conveying the flashing intelligence, the sensibility, the stubbornness, the troublesome articulation (because of mandible cancer and painful palate prosthesis), his unlimited love for his daughter Anna (played by Bennent's real daughter Anne!), his fear of debts and constant worrying about money, the strictness melted down by ailing health, personal losses, war and old age (and wisdom, I suppose). The cast also includes nice surprises, like Marie's children Pierre and Eugénie played by gorgeous siblings Jowan and Isild Le Besco, and, in a small part, Deneuve's real-life son Christian Vadim playing the seducer of her own character as a young girl (how much more Freudian than that can you get?).
The film benefits from Benoît Jacquot's experience in period drama ("Adolphe", "Sade", "Tosca") and a script that -- though it occasionally follows the "miniseries" recipe and seems chopped for length's sake -- manages to include didactic psychoanalytical jargon and political references without sounding far-fetched; please have in mind this was made for a TV audience, not the art film circuit. Yes, it might have been better, but if you're a fan of Deneuve, Bennent or Marie Bonaparte you won't want to miss this one.
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