The film begins w/ a 30 minute commencement establishing the simultaneity of Breillat's artistic interests: How--in what manner--should we depict this subject matter; how do we do justice to emotional intimacy, historical detail, AND political distance? C.B. chips away at these inquiries in each & every moment of the film, her greatest work. The classicism, the transgression, Asia Argento: the culmination ruins me.
Tiré de Barbey d’Aurevilly. 1835, la marquise de Flers marie sa petite fille à 1 jeune noble dont la réputation de libertin l’inquiète. Toute 1 nuit, Ryno de Marigny va tenter de la rassurer en lui racontant comment il a mis fin à 10 ans de passion avec 1 sulfureuse maîtresse: La Vellini.
Asia Argento, Fu’ad Ait Aattou, Claude Sarraute, Michel Lonsdale, Yolande Moreau, Lio, Amira Casar, Anne Parillaud & Léa Seydoux.
Even the blandness of lead actor Fu'ad Ait Aattou does nothing to take away the power of Breillat's adaptation of the D'Aurevilly novel. Her passion for the frank material shines through with clever supporting casting including the sublime Claude Sarraute and Roxane Mesquida. Interesting that a selection of her former leading ladies have small roles sprinkled throughout.
Frankly, the only reason I didn't turn it off at first was that I've committed to watching a quota of films directed by women. After that, it was because of the grandmother, who was a delight. After that, it was resignation, time invested, comfort on couch, etc. Felt like a film going through the motions. Halfhearted. No surplus energy with which to compel. 2.5
The opening credits state that the film is set "...in the century of Choderlos de Laclos," who lived in the eighteenth century while the source novel by Barbey d'Aurevilly is a product of the nineteenth century. I think this speaks to what these literary sources are all about and to the 'kind' of film Breillat wanted to make. Imagine if she had directed a film version of 'Dangerous Liaisons,' wow...
The pacing can be awkward - it gets off to a slow start, and looses some steam in the last third. But at its best, a mesmerizing, dark tale of lust, passion, and deceit that knows when to be raw and when to be understated. Bolstered by strong performances, including a surprising turn from Asia Argento, this is easily one of Breillat's best films.
Breillat delivers a fairly direct adaptation (tho I can't compare overlap), but given the madonna/whore subject it doesn't feel impersonal. Instead it plays as an especially fiery romance, sympathy bestowed on upon the latter of course. The structure creates a certain distance as we discover the implications of the early scenes, and it doesn't lean heavily on the repression of the period as we might expect.