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In Majorca, in 1823, a French general, Armand de Montriveau, overhears a cloistered nun singing in a chapel; he insists on speaking to her. She is Antoinette, for five years he has searched for her. Flash back to their meeting in Paris, he recently returned from Africa, she married and part of the highest society. She flirts with him, and soon he's captivated. His behavior is possessive, insistent. Then, it is her turn to become obsessed. Letters, balls, scandal, a kidnapping, and an ultimatum bring her to the cloister and him to melancholy. Whose steel proved sharper? Is it tragic or grotesque? Written by
Rivette has already shown he is a master in directing movies in historical settings, as in Jeanne la pucelle or Suzanne Simonin. But in this one he actually surpassed himself. I find it incredible how he recreates the atmosphere of the early 19th century, how everything comes naturally and how details that probably took a lot of time to research are presented "en passant" rather than pointing out how different the world was back then, which is a frequent flaw in historic movies. Also the pictures are are incredibly dense and of rare beauty. If you want to get an idea what bored aristocrats in the early 19th century felt like and how they killed their time, this is the movie for you.
If you are looking for action, a simple plot or references to current issues, stay away from it. Actually I think it is one of the greatest strengths of the movie that Rivette leaves the story in its time and does not try to adapt it to the taste of today's audience (also a very common flaw in historic movies - and a reason why I generally hate them).
As for the story itself, I find it quite plausible and the actors get it across very credibly. However, if you are a sane person with no neurotic traits (I admit I have some) you might find it difficult to understand why the main characters torture each other that way. On the other hand, much of this is also rooted in the time in which the book was written.
And yes, it is artificial, but it is so intently and I don't see anything wrong with that...
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