Monday, March 01, 2010

The Duchess of Langeais

The Duchess of Langeais (Jacques Rivette, 2008) [7]

Rivette has always been a director willing to take his time to tell a story and The Duchess of Langeais is a perfect example of that. There are some extraordinary moments in this film but it also contains moments that can try your patience and become cumbersome. The story is really an examination the maneuverings of a relationship as well as a conflict between courtly high society in Europe and the more romantic ideals that were becoming popular in the mid 1800s. General Montriveau (Guillame Depardieu) falls for the married Duchess (Jeanne Balibar), who coyly exploits Montriveau's feelings knowing that the society she occupies will never allow the relationship. Rivette gives a subtle yet effective examination of the Duchess and Montriveau's back and forth, a clash of emotions and social standing. About midway through, the film switches its power structure, with Montriveau dictating the two's actions and revealing the way the Duchess really feels about him. It succeeds because Rivette keeps the camera fixed to capture the complexity of the two's relationship. The film takes its time to get to its finish but for only the occasional stray scene or two, it never loses its focus. There are some great moments of emotional sparring between the two leads. In terms of a character study, it's hard to do much better. Twenty minutes or so cut out would have made it classic.

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