At first glance, Gabrielle (newly out on DVD) seems like a mild-mannered, turn-of-the-century period piece about a Parisian publishing magnate who’s living a sumptuous life with his elegant wife. Perhaps this is a lost episode of some old PBS serial?
Almost immediately, the film kicks you in the teeth: Gabrielle leaves Jean a note saying she’s left him for another man but then returns the same day, having had a change of heart. There may not have been a movie about a collapsing marriage this intense and this thrilling since Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? some 40 years ago.
Like Woolf, Gabrielle is an adaptation of a masterwork (a Joseph Conrad novella), but unlike Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, Isabelle Huppert and Pascal Greggory aren’t playing battle-scarred lunatics drunk off their asses. Which makes their clear-eyed bitterness and cruelty that much more devastating.
Huppert — the Meryl Streep of France — is, as always, amazing, and Greggory is also great in this film-festival favorite that ran in theaters for about a day and a half last summer. This is what DVDs were made for.
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