Just as we feared it would, Jumper ruled the box office this weekend, demonstrating either the fact that no one reads reviews, people inexplicably want to see Hayden Christensen’s work or there really is nothing else around in this inter-season dredge of studio pictures out there. Sigh. Prepare yourselves for Jumper 2, and you guys have no one to blame but yourselves. So! We were delighted to tuck in to The Duchess of Langeais (or Ne Touchez Pas la Hache for all you smarty-pants), which will be opening at the art houses this Friday. The film comes from French New Wave director Jacques Rivette (whom we’re happy to see still working, at just shy of 80). Mr. Rivette is famous for his experimental style and somewhat insane running times (one cut of Out 1 was 13 hours long in its original form), and best known here for his films Celine et Julie vont en Bateau and L’Amour fou.
THE SCREENPLAY FOR The Duchess of Langeais is based on the Balzac story (and we trust our much more literate colleague, Andrew Sarris, when he says the film abides faithfully by the novella). The movie concentrates on the cat-and-mouse game of seduction between Antoinette (the alluring Jeanne Balibar), the Duchess of Langeais in question—a married but still very flirty fixture at the lavish balls of Paris during the Restoration—and the broody and grizzledly handsome general, Armand de Montriveau, played by Guillaume Depardieu. First, an aside on Mr. Depardieu: We’ve had a soft spot for the son of Gerard since back in the early 90’s, when he starred in Tous le Matin du Monde (and a photo of the actor looking devastatingly French and full of ennui—in a beret—somehow found its way to our bedroom wall). The years, they have changed him, and the once scarily pretty actor has, at age 37, taken on a full load of world-weary charm. (Our nostalgia led us to some research, discovering Mr. Depardieu had his leg amputated in 1995. Ouch!) The movie cuts between the present day (which involves war and cloisters and a nunnery) and five years earlier, when the seemingly-destined-for-unhappiness pair first meet. The movie moves along at a measured, darkly ironic and lusciously costumed pace, the chemistry between the two principles is palpable, and after a long run of films populated by bright shiny young things (Cloverfield, we’re talking to you!), it was a relief to the eyeballs and soul to see two people in a different demographic box of life wrestle with love, intimacy and humiliation. Get to it, tout de suite!
The Duchess of Langeais opens Friday at the IFC Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Theaters.