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Max Baissette de Malglaive,
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
Honoré De Balzac's novel 'La Duchesse Du Langeais' has been transformed by screenwriter Pascal Bonitzer for the screen as 'Ne Touchez Pas a la Hache' and the result is a mixture of proscenium stage pictures, and scenes separated by written dialog that merely lets the viewer know such unnecessary details such as that fact that time has passed, and well over two hours of an uninvolved courtship between a sensualist and a coquette. While it is a pleasure to remember the times of Balzac and his way with lusty themes, watching this film version can be tedious - at best.
Fans of director Jacques Rivette will find much to enjoy in this adaptation: the pacing of the film feels important to his concept of the development of the story - the stifling boredom of the evenings of balls in Paris and the isolation of the soldiers' lives, deprived of the companionship of lovely ladies. He has cast Jeanne Balibar as the title character Antoinette De Langeais , a married lady of means with a penchant for flirting and coquettish behavior with important men, and Guillaume Depardieu as General Armand De Montriveau, a war hero who lost his leg and returns to Paris vulnerable for love, namely in the instant attraction to Antoinette. The tale is one of a game of the General's passionate love and the duchess' toying with his advances until a climax is reached which changes the approach of each character with rather disastrous consequences for both.
As a period piece the film works well: the costumes and settings are splendid and the scenes in the endless ballrooms are full of grace and lovely music. But the flow of the encounters between Antoinette and Armand are an interminable series of momentary repetitious encounters with a sound track that seems bent on capturing the opening and closing of doors and the loud pacing of the crippled general as he enters and leaves the naughty lady's chamber. There is little to draw us into caring for the characters and after the first hour and a half of the film the courtship begs our indulgence. In French with English subtitles. Definitely recommended for fans of Jacques Rivette's films or Balzac's stories, but a 'long song' for casual viewers. Grady Harp
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