I haven't read Wuthering Heights for many years, and I barely remember the couple of previous adaptations (the William Wyler production from '39 and the Buñuel from '54) that I've seen, so I was much more interested in seeing this as a little-seen, supposedly minor work of Jacques Rivette than as yet another adaptation of a hoary English classic. That may well be the best way to look at it, as I found this a fairly involving, even compelling story of unrequited and difficult loves, not just between the central characters of Heathcliff (Roch in this version, an at first bloodless but later quite savage Lucas Belvaux) and Catherine (deceptively strong-willed in Fabienne Babe's performance)....throughout the film there are hints of incestuous feelings on the part of Catherine's older brother Guillaume, and all of the characters seem to have powerful love-hate attractions to their landscape and environment, here translated to a remote and rocky pair of farms in 1930s France. The class distinctions between orphan Roch, his on-the-decline adoptive family, and the on-the-rise siblings Olivier and Isabel are subtly drawn and the feelings of entrapment in the remote vastnesses of both the two huge country houses and the wild hillside are always present, if more potently presented in the early parts of the film. Beautifully shot, though the VHS copy I watched suffered from rather washed-out color; the very minimal and rarely heard music is from the Bulgarian Women's Choir, fitting ultimately if not a very obvious choice.
When all is said and done Rivette's theatrical style of shooting and direction of performances offers a lot of interesting counterpoint to the madness at the heart of the story, the actors seeming cool and detached and often still at many points both before and after short eruptions of violence and passion, but ultimately it does drain some of the drama from the story and I found the second act after Roch's return less involving than the first. Still, this is far from awful as I had been led to believe it might be and though it is certainly one of the director's weaker films it remains well worth seeing to his fans.
Letterboxed VHS tape, rental. 8/10
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If you've seen other films by Jacques Rivette, you might wonder, just as I do, what this Victorian novel adaptation was all about. If you've seen other films by this unique director - especially "Celine and Julie go boating" or newer ones like "Secret Defense" and "Histoire de Marie et Julien" - this mid-eighties try just doesn't fit.
Take the 1974 masterpiece "Celine and Julie" for comparison. In it, two very open-minded young women (both practitioners of different kinds of "magic") get tangled in a mysterious old-fashioned love triangle story, taking place in a archetypal haunted (Victorian) house. When they figure out that the 10-year old daughter of the house-owner is going to get murdered out of love madness, they decide to sneak into the house and rescue her.
The thing is, you know from the beginning that the pathetic melodrama in the haunted house is not real in the sense that Celine and Julie are. It's rather they invented the whole story just to kill time & have some fun with out-dated storytelling. It's essentially a illustration of what is called "deconstruction". The melodrama just serves as something that can be manipulated or even laughed at. Rivette (respectively, Celine and Julie) play very freely with a kind of narrative that doesn't seem to work anymore.
Unfortunately, "Hurlevent" has just the feeling of the haunted house sequences of the earlier movie - and that means, the characters are not likable, seem like marionettes, bloodless, dull. It completely lacks the light-hearted (though very intellectual) sophistication that made "Celine and Julie" so enjoyable. Maybe Rivette wanted it just like that. Even if this is so, it doesn't make sense for me.
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