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A film of frigid grandeur
Chris Knipp17 November 2005
Warning: 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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Scenes from a marriage
jotix10029 July 2006
Warning: 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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Another Chereau Masterpiece
cllrdr-120 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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it's a matter of taste
paulawilder23 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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A stunning evocation of marital relationship
Peegee-310 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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Signe, Gabrielle Chilled on the Rocks
kenichiku31 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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RNQ24 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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Conrad, Chéreau, Huppert, Greggory: Exquisite Quartet for GABRIELLE
gradyharp1 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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A Dark,Textured, Many Faceted Thing
film_ophile7 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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talky but intriguing drama
Roland E. Zwick27 February 2007
Based on "The Return" by Joseph Conrad, "Gabrielle" tells the story of a woman in turn-of-the-century Paris who rebels against a loveless marriage.

Jean Hervey is a successful newspaper publisher whose life is ruled far more by social obligation and ritual than by emotion or passion. He extends this philosophy to all areas of his life, even to his own wife, whom he sees less as a person with a basic human need for intimacy and passion than as an attractive ornament to be placed beside all the other artwork in his impressive collection of Greek statuary. He even proclaims rather proudly - as if it were evidence of his imperviousness to the weakness of the flesh - that, though he and his wife do share the same bedroom, they sleep in different beds. Yet, he is not above deluding himself into believing that he actually loves her, although he is the first to admit that real love requires far too much effort to really be worth his time. He takes pride in her "placid" nature, which he feels serves him well in her function as hostess for the dinner parties he throws for his friends like clockwork every Thursday night. One day, however, Jean's studiously ordered world is shattered when he finds a note from Gabrielle informing him that she has run off with another man. A few moments later, though, Gabrielle mysteriously returns home, having been unable to make that final break for reasons not entirely fathomable either to herself or to us. The remainder of the film is spent examining the couple's efforts to cope with the situation.

This theme - of an aristocratic, free-spirited woman trapped in a figurative gilded cage by either the man in her life or society as a whole - was not exactly a novel one even at the time the story was written, but what separates "Gabrielle" from similar works is its unique concentration on the man instead of the woman, on HIS repression and inadequacies rather than hers. This leads to a conclusion rich in irony as Jean, the passionless purveyor of propriety, becomes ever more eaten up by his own jealousies and obsessions. Jean reveals much of what he's thinking through voice-over narration, as Gabrielle serves as a catalyst for his own emotional revolution.

If "Gabrielle" reminds us of anything, it is of a film by Ingmar Bergman, one in which the characters talk out the minutiae of their relationships and their innermost feelings and thoughts at almost agonizing length - tedious to some in the audience, perhaps, but fascinating to others. Patrice Chereau and Anne-Louise Trividic's literate screenplay plumbs the depths of the two souls involved, while Chereau's direction keeps things moving by employing a camera that sweeps with almost reckless abandon through the dusky rooms and crowded salons where the action takes place.

Isabelle Huppert and Pascal Greggory are perfectly cast foils as the husband and wife for whom "love" is no longer a viable option. Each of the actors seethes with an intensity that reveals the passions that have long lain dormant under the couple's placid exteriors.

Although Gabrielle may be the first of the two to throw off the cloak of respectability and go for what really matters, it is Jean's intense struggle with his own inner demons that commands most of our attention. For despite the title being "Gabrielle," the film turns out to be much more Jean's story in the end than hers.
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davidspmail19 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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A pretentious and stultifying waste of time
gracie2826 August 2006
Gabrielle has fine actors, beautiful camera work and features a detailed look at upper crust French parlor society in the early 1900s. It is also one of the more boring and stifling pictures we've seen in a long time. Huppert is a great actress but she is wasted here. If the director was going to do a Conrad adaptation, the original story needed to be better converted for cinema because it just didn't work. There was incessant, drone-on talking which went nowhere. There was little or no character development. Overall the 90 minute movie felt like three and a half hours, for no payoff. The ending was just truncated and very unsatisfying.
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Biff Tread17 July 2006
Don't get me wrong, I'm as much of a film snob as anyone out there...but if you want to see a French film in which two characters spend the entire time arguing about a relationship, I strongly recommend skipping this tedious and basically shallow flick and watching instead Hiroshima Mon Amour or Last Year at Marienbad (both directed by Alain Resnais).

Gabrielle is a strange film...the loud, tense music, the effects of lighting, the experimental flashing of words on the screen...all are wasted, in my opinion, on the more or less trite and endlessly circular argument the two characters carry out throughout the film. The music, especially, often seems to bear no relationship at all or an extremely overblown one to the scene it is involved with.

A lot of the reviews you will read here say you should think of this film as more of an opera or a play...but this is a FILM...and the story needs to be suited to that medium. It ISN'T!!!
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A couple of unrealistic monologues of 2 different characters.
JJ_D6 October 2005
Patrice Chéreau, director of La Reine Margot and Intimacy, has made with Gabrielle a bad movie. The movie, in total, is to theatrical. Casting Isabelle Huppert as Gabrielle was a bad choice, Pascal Greggory plays good at some moments , but his anger does not reach the audience. The whole film is spoken in a wired, poetical language that makes the movie unbelievable and even boring when the same character speaks for about ten minutes without any interruption. Jean (Pascal Greggory) does a good acting-job at the ending, where he's anger is serious and realistic. Unbelievable people could give this a ten, not bad enough to give it a zero.

** (/out of five)
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A fine, intelligent movie, adaptation of a story
Jeremiah Cornelius23 November 2008
As well as being a huge Huppert fan, I'm also a keen Conrad reader. This version of The Return is probably the best ever adaptation of a Conrad story. Some of it is almost line by line from Conrad's descriptions. An incredibly sensitive interpretation and a great film in its own right. Bravo! This woman is perhaps the greatest actress of the day, both on stage and screen and Gabrielle is one of her best roles. She is able to bring a sense of fragility and strength to her best parts, as in La Vie Promise, for instance. Emma Bovary could not have been a better part for her, either. I have watched Gabrielle probably as many times as I have read The Return and it is a wonderful tribute to the talent of all involved.
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of a marriage, dark and depressive
grossindecency29 June 2008
Based on Conrad's "The Return", "Gabrielle" is not a simple story of an unhappy marriage. The couple does not only see the parts that don't work but digs into them, but both get hurt by the things they discover while trying to dig deeper. The deeper they get, the more sorrow they share and they face a marriage that has long turned to a masquerade, like their whole life.

Their outburst will make both of them bleed from most of the long-paralyzed parts of their personalities.

A great screenplay, great directing by Chereau, and wonderful actings from Huppert and Greggory.
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You CAN Go Home Again (But I Wouldn't Bother)
writers_reign22 October 2005
Pascal Greggory has it made - on paper, at least. A town house only marginally smaller than the Musee d'Orsay, complete with a full complement of servants - a lifestyle in fact that it seems only Prince Charles aspires to today - and last but not least a trophy wife in the shape of Isabelle Huppert. Ah, there's the rub, as someone once said because picture his chagrin when he comes home one evening after a hard day's flaneuring to find a note in his wife's unmistakable hand to the effect that she's had it up to here and has taken it on the Jesse Owens with a lover about whom until now she has been so discreet it isn't true. But this is only the beginning for hardly has the ink had time to dry on the letter than she is back again and this is where the story really starts given that the bulk of the movie is the exploration of this angle at length. Pascal Greggory makes a convincing heavy - he was last seen at it in the latest remake of Arsene Lupin - and though he is ostensibly the victim and wronged party here he still manages to play it like a villain. I can't honestly claim to be a fan of Chereau and nothing in this effort really changes my mind but I am a fan of Isabelle Huppert and she obliges with her usual fine performance in the second film in a row (after Les Souers Fachees) in what will, we hope, turn out to be her new sleaze-free choice of roles.
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A really really annoying stinker
buzzbruin11 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Do not waste your time seeing this horrible movie--I hated the actors the photography the servants the leads EVERYBODY.. The opening sequence was the worst in the history of sub-titles--talk, talk, talk--so much talk you coudnt follow the subtitles! I prayed that the husband would JUST STOP TALKING! I got it- she hated him as much as I did. The idea that this couple would have any kind of meaningful relationship was not possible. I hated the 3 maids and the scenes of their duties. Yeah I get it--in the 19th century women had no legal rights--a key explanation for some of the m Ivie's. There was absolutely no explanation or character development of their 'FRIENDS" One of my rules for any form of drama is to CARE about the people involved--these people should have been taken before a French firing squad asap! The (writing) was non-existent--the only information given was everybody hated everybody. The music was the MOST Inapropriate ever seen in the history of film, unrelated to anything in the plot. This is the most shallow movie in the history of drama--if widely released it would set French films back for 2 decades. The lead actors only talent was to be a boring pompous ass--thus I hated him as much as the role he played. The female lead was LOST--no emotional life--AND not ONE MOMENT OR WORD OF HUMOUR
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Chereau a masterful director
jim smith18 July 2006
This up close study of a marriage in crisis is Chereau at his subtle, rich best. The infant terrible of '82 Bayreuth has matured into a maestro of cinema.

Gabrielle wants more but is unwilling to spend the effort or pay the price to get it. Her husband wants less and will settle for nothing less than less. The machinery of their marriage was running so flawlessly that it required no work by either and only modest attention. Their relations were on automatic pilot and they both seemed massively content to keep it that way. Then the machinery, briefly but ruinously, goes crazy.

Huppert and Greggory are riveting. And, not counting the credits, run time is less than 90 minutes. Good artistic judgment there by Chereau. Any longer and this film could be painful for the viewer. Jim Smith
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Complex Gothic horror movie that leaves too many loose ends
Mike O28 July 2006
This is a wonderfully acted dramatization of 19th Century English society, with 'invisible' servants in excess, stereotyped poses and inhibitions built around social mores of what should have been an unbelievable epoch. However, the 21st Century music, cinematic tricks (black and white to color switches) and pretentiousness of the direction distract the viewer from what should have been provocative and gripping themes. Understanding the emotional impacts of the customs, social strata and expectations during this era should have been fascinating, but somehow becomes boring in this film. One tires of seeing the four servants in the kitchen washing, drying or watching the handling of a single dish, or the two or more servants who appear for almost any activity, or even the regularly attended Thursday dinner parties suggest that privacy is an alien concept to that milieu.
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"Visually captivating period piece..."
Sindre Kaspersen14 November 2011
French screenwriter and director Patrice Chèreau's tenth feature film which he co-wrote with French screenwriter Anne-Louise Trividic and produced, is an adaptation of a novel called "The Return" from 1897 by Polish author Joseph Conrad. It was screened In competition at the 62nd Venice Film Festival in 2005 and is a France-Italy co-production. It tells the story about a wealthy and successful middle-aged man named Jean Hervey who returns home on the 10th anniversary of his marriage and finds a letter written by his wife named Gabrielle containing shocking confessions that causes an array of questions.

This visually captivating period piece is a gripping and efficient chamber drama set in a bourgeois milieu where French filmmaker Patrice Chèreau portrays a married couple's crucial confrontation after a consequential revelation brings everything up to the surface. With stunning cinematography by French cinematographer Eric Gautier, production design by French production designer and art director Olivier Radot, costume design by costume designer Caroline De Vivaise, timely score by composer Fabio Vacchi, a detailed and well written story, an interesting study of character and astute filming, this atmospheric and close to theatrical tale about love and marriage stands out and is empowered by Pascal Greggory and Isabelle Huppert's ardent lead performances.
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Like Bergman, but Without the Laughs
Jay Raskin5 July 2010
I have to come out in the middle on this one. It is not as great and brilliant as some say. On the other side, it is not as boring and cold as other people say.

Yes, it is very much a two character stage play. There are however, a number of camera and editing tricks that keep the viewer off-balance. The switching from black and white to color, for example, is startling and effective.

The acting isn't really movie acting, it is stage acting. One could justify it to an extent in that the main characters are wealthy and highly mannered in their speech and action. However, this carries over into the servants who display a bland seriousness in all their actions as well. On the whole, the stylized acting is a draw back to the audience's character involvement, while adding to the alienating atmosphere.

See it when you are in a somber mood and your close relationships are not working out. You'll feel better knowing that there have been couples worse off than you.

On the positive side, there are a few tense and gripping moments in the film that suddenly pop out. The scene where the man finds the letter from his wife is one of those scenes. It is not exactly unforgettable, but it is quite effective and gripping.

At times, the movie seems like the Cliff Notes for "Scenes From a Marriage" Still, for all its faults there is a clear prospective on marriage in a certain near high society social class. The film gets some credit for showing that it is not particularly pretty when you look closely at it. It deserves credit for its sincerity and honesty.
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To misquote a Beatles lyric, "a turgid time is guaranteed for most".
Byron Dandy11 August 2006
It's really interesting to read all the gushing reviews of the film on this board. Interesting in that my experience watching this film last week at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) was completely the opposite. I haven't read the Joseph Conrad original so perhaps I needed to do so, to better appreciate the story.

Of the 18 films I've seen at the festival so far, I found this film to be the least personally engaging and most frustrating. Uninvolving story and unlikable lead characters coupled with a tedious pace completely annoyed me. A passionless marriage and the consequences of a single action were also clearly not enough to keep many from walking out of my session. My feeling was that the film would never have been included in the festival if not for the clout of Huppert and the fact that it was French. I found her performance irritating and lifeless - perhaps that was the point and I didn't appreciate it enough. I felt occasional moments of 'Last Year At Marienbad' when watching except that I really enjoyed that film unlike this one. If this had been an Australian made film, the knives would surely have been out, for "wasting tax payers money" etc in the press. Interesting to note in the now completed 2006 Sydney Film Festival that it ranked 25th with the audience vote in a field of 25 world cinema features screened. So clearly others have shared my pain.
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Make sure this is your cup of tea
gwailo2475 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I don't usually watch these types of movies, and had my friend not wanted to see it ('it got good reviews') I would have never watched it. I freely admit my bias. Objectively speaking, the acting was excellent, and I was impressed by the way the film was shot.

Problem is I was bored out of my skull after about 15 minutes. This movie seemed to drag on with no conclusion in sight. Seeing now that this was based on a short story, I am of a strong opinion this would have made a good short film. But there really did not seem to be enough plot to fill the 90 minutes, especially as one left the cinema. Halfway through the movie I was wishing it was set in May 1940 just for the sake of an air raid.

The other reviewers have showed quite well what is good about this movie, and what one can enjoy in it, and if you like that sort of movie, then by all means watch this one. If you're on the fence and don't like really slow movies, you might want to reconsider this one.
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An art house showpiece for Isabelle Huppert
Harry T. Yung9 May 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This second most recent Isabelle Huppert film (according to the IMDb listing) is one of the dozen plus selections in the "A tribute to Isabelle Huppert" program in the "Le French May" festival in town, and was also featured in the "Gala presentation" segment (in such company as "Paradise now", "Goodnight, and good luck", "Match point") in the Hong Kong International Film Festival a month before.

Art-house to the core, "Gabrielle" reminds you first of Ibsen's "A dolls house", except that Gabrielle returns almost right away. By sheer coincidence, I watched also recently a rarely performed one-act play by Harold Pinter – "Ashes to ashes" – and detect some similarities, the trying relationship in a married couple explored in a continuous, theatrical dialogue. It was also an interesting experience watching "A judgment in stone" and "Gabrielle" back to back, in that order, with 18 minutes in between, comparing a very uncharacteristic and a very characteristic Huppert close up.

I suspect, no, I'm absolutely certain, that what I got out of "Gabrielle" was greatly discounted by not understanding French. The subtitle (English only) makes sense in most cases, but at times makes clearly discernible suggestions that there are just subtle things that don't lend themselves to meaningful translations.
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