Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Duchess of Langeais

Before I have my say, here's what the New York Times said:

Behind the Mask of Civility, the Battles Rage On
Published: February 22, 2008
Jacques Rivette’s “Duchess of Langeais” seems to me a nearly impeccable work of art — beautiful, true, profound. Based on Balzac’s 1834 short novel and set against the French Restoration — Napoleon is in exile and a Bourbon king again sits on the throne — it traces how a passionate affair of the heart curdles into cruelty and obsession. Originally titled “Don’t Touch the Ax” (a threat guaranteed to make noble necks twitch), it is a story about manners, language, power and society and the bodies caught in their grip. “Life,” one character observes, “is simply a complication of interests and feelings.” Art too.
Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? Well, I didn't get it, and neither did three of four of our group. The pace was slow to the point of exhaustion. The characters never gained my sympathy. The so-called plot was tiresome. One of our group left without seeing the ending after over two hours into the movie. The one member of our group who had anything good to say about the film admired the costumes and scenery. Yes, I'll agree with that.

(Spoilers ahead)

The story is of a Duchess (a married woman) and her flirtation with a French general, set in post-Napoleon France. She flirts with him. He wants her. He gives up trying. She flirts with him, he rebuffs her. Back and forth never getting together. The film offers many distractions, the worst of which was brief written explanations of the passage of time in white text on a black background reminiscent of silent movies. Finally, after a final rebuff from the general, our duchess joins a group of cloistered nuns in Spain. He searches the world over and finally finds her but she refuses to leave the convent. He gets his thugs together to kidnap her only to find her lying dead in the convent. He kidnaps her anyway and takes her with him to sea where his friend convinces him to bury her at sea and think of her as just a story her once read. He agrees and the credits finally come up. I had hoped as one last romatic gesture he might dive into the ocean with her and be buried at sea together. Ah well. I chose this movie, so I do apologize to my friends. But I trusted the reviews I had read.

Still, we had a wonderful dinner beforehand. Celia and Pat's mom, Carol, joined all of us at Stoneground Pizza for some excellent pasta and salads, and of course, dessert. The best part of the evening, as it always is, was the chatting, gossiping, laughing, and eating. It was so nice to have the whole group together.

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