Paris shortly before World War I. Wealthy and self-satisfied, Jean Hervey is returning home from work, describing life with his wife of 10 years, Gabrielle; he values her as impassive and stolid. However, that day she's gone, leaving a letter that she's joining a man she loves. Jean is devastated, but within minutes she's returned, telling him that her resolve has failed. Over the next two days, he questions, demands, begs, and parries with her: why did she leave, why did she return, does she love him, did she ever love him, who is her lover, is she passionate with her lover? She's calm as alabaster, reserved. Is she in danger? When she makes an offer, how will he respond?Written by
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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