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Gabrielle More at IMDbPro »

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29 out of 36 people found the following review useful:

A film of frigid grandeur

Author: Chris Knipp from Berkeley, California
17 November 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The day after giving an opulent dinner party a rich, smug gentleman in 1890's Paris is devastated to receive a note from his wife announcing that she's just left him for someone else. His wife is one of the cornerstones and chief decorations of his secure and beautiful life. She can't be gone. It's unthinkable. He is beside himself. But a few hours later, she reappears. She has changed her mind. He doesn't take her return at all well. The intent was there. She must have a lover. There follows a lot of talk but very little communication between Jean (Pascal Greggory) and Gabrielle (Isabelle Huppert) and between Gabrielle and her maid Yvonne (Claudia Coli). And then, another dinner party, given as if nothing had happened, with all the usual guests, including the other man, whose identity Gabrielle has revealed to her husband by now. The couple have a loud quarrel in front of everybody, which the guests all politely pretend to ignore. Later, in their bedroom, when the guests have departed, Gabrielle offers her body to Jean. He lies down beside her and begins to touch her, but then without himself undressing jumps up and asks, "There will be no love any more?" "No." "That is acceptable for you?" "Yes." "For me never!" And he rushes from the room and from the house. {Title, in huge letters across the screen:) HE NEVER RETURNED. End of film.

"Gabrielle" makes more sense if you see it as an opera -- a form in which Chéreau has long excelled as a production designer. The audience tittered at some of Jean's remarks; nonetheless Greggory's performance as a thick-headed, self-centered, unappealing bourgeois is convincing, impeccable. Isabelle Huppert as usual is wonderful to watch, but may seem too modern a woman for the role she has here. The talk works as arias rather than conversations. Each character is addressing an unseen audience, more than his or her interlocutor. A variety of formal devices -- big titles as in a silent film; gratingly assonant modern music behind the witty general conversation at the dinner party; segments of film shot in black and white, beginning with the introduction where Jean appears arriving by train with his voice-over describing his perfect life -- are used to cut through the wild emotional disorder on display. Based on the Joseph Conrad story "The Return," which Chéreau and company have made into a film of frigid grandeur.

Seen at the New York Film Festival October 2005 and SFIFF April 2006. Shown at Chicago Festival October 2005 . Rights bought by Wellspring at NYFF for US theatrical release in spring 2006. French DVD release 19 April 2006.

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27 out of 35 people found the following review useful:

Another Chereau Masterpiece

Author: cllrdr-1 ( from Los Angeles, Ca.
20 March 2006

Joseph Conrad wrote his novella, "The Return" in tribute to Henry James, whose "The Spolis of Poynton" inspired him to write about a man who regards people as objects of ownership-- and is gobsmacked when his most prized possession, his wife, walks out on him. On the page it's a tight little chamber piece, with overtones of Ibsen and Strindberg. On the screen the great Patrice Chereau turns it into something else -- an opera in which the images sing rather than the performers. Pascale Greggory is in top form as a haute bourgeois "man who has everything" whose smugness masks a total disdain for feeling. When the superb Isabelle Huppert leaves a note to say she's leaving, the brandy decanter he drops echoes like the sword of Siegfried in Chereau's famed production of Wagner's "Ring" cycle. (Fabio Vacchi's amazing Alban Berg-like score seals the deal on this aspect of the work.) The dramatic set-to that results finds our non-hero groping for words to speak to the feelings he's never experienced before -- longing, regret, and finally grief at the loss of a love he's never allowed himself to know.

As far from Merchant-Ivory as one can possibly imagine Chereau and production designer Olivier Radot (new to la famille Chereau) place the action in a museum-like mansion where a small army of servants move about at the service of this infernal couple and their friends. Scenes of their fashionable parties suggest the Verdurins in Proust with cinematographer Eric Gauthier indulging in a color palette that makes the screen seem like a Manet come to life.

Chereau is doubtless familiar with what Georges Bataille wrote of Manet: "A little superficial perhaps, but driven by inner forces that gave him no rest, Manet was possessed by a desire for something beyond his reach which he never fully understood and which left him for ever tantalized and unsatisfied, on the brink of nervous exhaustion." That's perfect description of the emotional heart of this very great film.

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18 out of 23 people found the following review useful:

A stunning evocation of marital relationship

Author: Peegee-3 ( from Santa Monica, CA
10 August 2006

This incredible adaptation of Joseph Conrad's story,"The Return" has been haunting me for days. The visual beauty of its cinematography in contrast to the devastating psychological and emotional pain of its characters, brilliantly portrayed by Isabelle Huppert and Pascal Gregory. has rarely been achieved in film. No need here to repeat the details of the story...I do however want to point out what I have not read in any reviews or comments...that this is basically, as I see it, an evocation of the power and control struggle in a marriage...that moves between husband and wife in the most fascinating and brilliant way. My most grateful appreciation and admiration to Patrice Chereau for giving us this remarkable film. In a time of blockbuster, action movies, what a joy to experience a work of art that provides intense emotion, intelligent food for thought and visual nurturance.

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17 out of 24 people found the following review useful:

A Dark,Textured, Many Faceted Thing

Author: film_ophile from boston mass. usa
7 July 2006

I saw this dark oeuvre yesterday at the Boston French Film Festival at the MFA.It was chosen to be the Opening night Film and was sold out.The director was present and spoke at length about what drew him to make the film and what was important about it- for him. I felt the film-making was fascinating. From the opening sequence, where the footage in the train station is SO realistic in its early 20th c. appearance, and throughout the film, I found the cinematography to be lush, stylized, extremely well-framed and riveting .It is a perfect voice for the story. The actors are always IN YOUR FACE and this fact, combined with an economic and well written script, heavy dark music, tremendously accurate and effective set design, and spot-on acting, made for an extremely moving and interesting exploration of the story. For me, in tone and context, it felt a bit like Henry James' Portrait of a Lady (and probably works by Ibsen and others) Isabelle Huppert and her husband are extremely wealthy, cold, unemotional,detached from themselves and others, and 'safe' in that world. Their house-where 99% of the film takes place, is a dark, heavy, classical, structured prison.(The director's background in stage directing is very evident in this film.) One little bubble bursts from that prison and then things change and the disintegration begins. It gives one a great deal to think about. My only problem with the film is the MUSIC.The music is as much an element of the film as the actors. That is not, in and of itself, a bad thing, but in the last 20 minutes of the film, it is just WAY TOO MUCH: too heavy, too loud, and too repetitive;a bit like Bruchner at his worst. But if you are able to see a DVD of this, you can turn down this overkill. If you are lucky enough to see the film live (so important for major artistic cinematography like this) you'll just have to deal with it; maybe it won't bother you so much.At any rate, the film will provide those so inclined with many things to think about and discuss. And visuals to remember. For me,I will always carry the image of Huppert, dressed in black, on that enormous settee... it's a Degas.

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10 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

Scenes from a marriage

Author: jotix100 from New York
29 July 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Jean Harvey, the wealthy owner of a Parisian newspaper, lives in splendor. He entertains lavishly, although as he points out in the narration during the opening scenes, his dinners are perhaps not as elaborate as those of the other wealthy people in their circle. We watch him as the story opens walking proudly throughout the streets of a smart quarter of the city thinking aloud for our benefit as a way of introduction.

The next time we see Jean is at one of his Thursday dinners in which a group of friends gather around his table to eat, talk and do what people in his circle do. It's at this moment that are introduced to Gabrielle, his lovely wife, an attractive woman who can hold her own at her parties because she commands attention from her friends whenever she speaks.

For all appearances, the Harveys are a happily married couple without a care in the world. Little prepares us for what awaits Jean Harvey as he goes home one day. Jean has told us how he and Gabrielle occupy just one room with twin beds, as they don't believe in separate accommodations. As he enters the bedroom, he sees an envelope addressed to him. Imagine his surprise as he opens it and finds out Gabrielle has left him for another man! Jean goes into a rage, perhaps because he had no hint of anything wrong with Gabrielle, who obviously, must have been planning leaving him for quite some time. In his state, he trashes a glass decanter and he cuts himself. Nothing seems to calm him from his state until, unexpectedly, we see a feminine figure clad in black ascending the stairs toward the bedroom. As the door opens, one can only see the blue gloves the woman is wearing. It's apparent Gabrielle has returned.

It's at this moment when the real fight begins between Jean and Gabrielle. The biggest shock for Jean is to know the name of the man who has charmed his wife into leaving him. Gabrielle feels she has made a horrible mistake, but she doesn't mince words in telling Jean what motivated her into going away. Jean is a cold man who never really understood his wife, as it seems always the case. To make matters worse, being a worldly man, he is more interested in what the friends in his circle will think about him, as it's obvious the servants will talk about them.

Patrice Chereau has created a film that surprises at first, and then, when all is said and done, makes us feel we've been had for the way the Harveys decide to settle their differences. Jean will never forgive Gabrielle, although at the end, one gets a hint that Gabrielle is willing to give Jean a part of herself she has kept away from him all along.

The film, based on a Joseph Conrad short story, "The Return", which we haven't read, gets a great staging by the director, who also co-wrote the screen play with Anne-Louise Thivudic. Mr. Chereau combines black and white photography in the early part of the film with color as the story develops. This is a film that makes us think about how some marriages, that appear to be happy, in reality are not so, as proved by the Harveys. Even though they are rich, have a great mansion, live comfortably, entertain friends, yet love eludes them, so Gabrielle has to go outside to feel wanted and needed.

The film consists of basically two characters, Jean and Gabrielle. Pascal Greggory and Isabelle Huppert are magnificent in the way they bring these two characters to life. Both actors give performances of such depth, we are stunned by their range and how they interact with one another through the movie.

The film is helped by the wonderful cinematography of Eric Gautier who works with the dark colors in the film that compliment the mood of the couple at the center of the action. Also, the background music by Favio Bacchi plays well in the context of the film. Patrice Chereau has directed with his usual panache, and although he sometimes succeeds, we feel this couple should have never gotten married in the first place.

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11 out of 14 people found the following review useful:


Author: RNQ from Canada
24 September 2006

Patrice Chéreau and his team continue to amaze. Their recent movies--"Intimacy" and "Son frère"--have been wild, and Isabelle Huppert has played some wild roles too. But "Gabrielle" is a masterpiece of control, an equal of the studio movies of Fritz Lang in the 1940s. A benchmark is Hitchcock's "Rebecca." Like those movies, every shot here, each turn of the head, is a statement of emotion (and a test of the actors' skill). Now not only music tells what the characters are doing, light is further nuanced with color. The almost-homage to black-and-white is astonishing, because it can also be lit into color, showing the characters' being forced to be here and now without escaping to old assumptions: a bitten lip bleeds red, a serving woman elaborately brings a softly glowing lamp upstairs. (A friend objects that the house has electricity, but the same friend puts candles on the dinner table, and this lamp has a purpose.) There's a thesis in Film Studies for the communicative devices of each scene and what is referenced, like the way there is a less flamboyant version of scenes in Ruiz's "Le temps retrouvé." But then being restrained is the theme, and the tension is extreme without any thunderstorm or overt thrill (a thrill for these characters might be the horror). If the source story was Conrad's homage to Henry James, here is a movie worthy of their capacity for narrative of the highest watchfulness and precision. Stay totally alert, movie goers.

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8 out of 10 people found the following review useful:


Author: davidspmail from United Kingdom
19 November 2006

Oh, dear. I cannot agree. The film is beautifully acted and sumptuously lit. Yes, it's Ibsenian in its relentless pursuit of the dark and hopeless but surely the most beautiful pay off of all is that while we all accuse HIM of being a soul-less, empty, proud and passionless man and sympathise with her - Huppert - and her confused search for freedom, the real truth is that she is as passionless, empty and love-less as he is. Why did she come back to him after she ran away? Exactly. His emptiness is her true home; it's with him she truly belongs in that cold, dark, rich and emotionally impoverished house, with its parties of unlikeable, unsympathetic guests who pass for 'society'; that cold, cold music of the piano recital at their last soirée. It's a long film, true, but it's a considerably well constructed one. Look again. David.

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5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

it's a matter of taste

Author: paulawilder from United States
23 December 2007

Obviously we don't all like the same things. One commentator said it was all just talk, as if that were a bad thing. I happen to love language and words, and in particular love the French language. So that is the reason I rent a movie in French. I also have a very strong aversion to "action movies" where language is reduced to "Ow! Help! Duck!" On the other hand, movies like Gabrielle where minute movements of the psyche are explored in depth by minimalistic means, these are what grip me, move me, keep me interested. I do not really think the movie is like an opera -- it was more like a french play -- the delivery and velocity of the spoken word was very much in the style of french live theater.

My only caveat is that French-ness and Conrad seem a strange mix to me. There was another French movie that was made on a Conrad text, and I had a similar reaction. Conrad is not writing about French society. And yet the action has been transplanted to France. And it seems an entirely incongruous transplant to me -- plopping the joyless uprightness of puritanical England (the only place name mentioned is "West End Station" into a such a lively Latin culture which has always had a much more relaxed attitude towards love and sex... well,to me it's just incongruous.

Nevertheless, it was an cleverly crafted movie, and the musical score by Fabio Vacchi was unearthly beautiful.

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5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Signe, Gabrielle Chilled on the Rocks

Author: kenichiku from San Francisco, California
31 August 2006

I've been watching & thoroughly enjoying Isabelle Huppert's films since 'The Lacemaker'. This time, what struck me was the intensity of Huppert's next-to-passive, almost casually indifferent postures of contempt for her husband. It is because of her being so minimal and apathetic that her performance harnesses its power and devastation. And this is what enhances Greggory's reactive performance as being so complementary, that of a once smug now tortured soul who slips and struggles to re-grasp a heart turned cold. He's just left grabbing air in the end. The looks on the faces of the chorus, their social clique & the servants in the troubled Hervey household says it all.

Going in, I was reminded of another story of martial discord, David Hughes Jone's 'Betrayal' but 'Gabrielle' hit me as being more incisive and oppressive than anything I've seen adapted for Pinter. I don't need to state the obvious that parlor films of this variety appeal only to those with an acquired taste. As for me, I can only say that I prefer the ice cubes that go with my scotch jagged & stinging cold like the ingredients in this film.

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6 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Conrad, Chéreau, Huppert, Greggory: Exquisite Quartet for GABRIELLE

Author: gradyharp from United States
1 January 2007

Patrice Chéreau is one of the giants of entertainment, whether in his direction of operas (his Wagner RING remains a gold standard), plays, or his films. He is a thoroughgoing artist, one who combines great intellect with a keen ear for music, camera movement, atmosphere, the spoken and unspoken word, and for accompanying some of the finest actors at work today in their realization of his visions.

GABRIELLE is a case in point and for this viewer this is simply one of the strongest films to come out of France - a country much celebrated for its cinematic genius - in many years. Inspired by Joseph Conrad's short story 'The Return' and adapted as a screenplay by Anne-Louise Trividic and Chéreau, the story is a brief history of a married couple whose ten-year marriage alters in one afternoon and evening - the time span of the film.

Jean Hervey (Pascal Greggory) is a handsome man of wealth who 'acquired' a wife Gabrielle (Isabelle Huppert) ten years ago. They live in a mausoleum of magnificent art and base their existence on the glamorous parties attended by the artists and patrons of the arts in turn of the century Paris. Jean's 'acquisition' of Gabrielle included the understanding that they would have no intimacy: they do sleep in the same bedroom but in separate beds. Their marriage seems perfect - but it is hollow. Rather abruptly Gabrielle leaves a note on the dresser addressed to Jean, a note that states she has left him for a man: her need for sexual gratification has risen to the breaking point. Jean is devastated, but as he nurses his broken glass-injured hand Gabrielle returns: she could not go through with ending the marriage of convenience. The two have extended verbal exchanges and physical abuse but it is only to the servants that Gabrielle shares her true feelings. She decides to structure her marriage to Jean by submitting to him sexually, a status that is novel to their marriage, and it is this role reversal of the masculine/feminine state that sends Jean panicked into the night.

Chéreau uses many techniques to render this story about intimacy (or the lack thereof) that strongly support the power of the film: sections are in black and white representing the way things appear and are structured to the planned observation; Raina Kabaivanska plays and sings at a soirée (she is an actual opera star); Jean's staff of servants is only women instead of the usual mix of men and women; the musical score by the brilliant Italian contemporary composer Fabio Vacchi is used as a 'character' instead of background support; and the camera work by cinematographer Eric Gautier uses a full cinemascope camera set up to add weight to the project.

But none of these subtleties would have worked so perfectly without the brilliance of acting of Isabelle Huppert and Pascal Greggory. They find the core of these strange characters and allow us to understand the rather warped psyches of the pair. It is a feat of genius. As an added DVD feature there is an extended conversation with Chéreau, Huppert and Greggory about the film from the initial idea to the finished product and hearing these three brilliant artists share their insights is for once extremely additive to the film. This rather dark and brooding film may be a bit too static for some, but for lovers of cinematic art it is a complete triumph to experience. Grady Harp

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