Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 05, 2005 3:42 pm 
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Patrice Chéreau: Gabrielle (France 2005). 86 minutes. No US distribution.

NYFF: October 7 and 8.

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 voiceover 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.

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