2.5 Far too long, especially as neither of the main characters is likeable, and we already know how the story ends. Quite a lot of onscreen dead space while we listen to creaking floorboards. The brief flash of the 1802 novel "Delphine" reminds one that the author, Germaine de Stael, would make a far more interesting subject. Exiled by Napoleon, de Stael advocated for the freedom of aristocratic women to divorce.
A priori, on serait évidemment tenté de penser que cent-trente-sept minutes de film costumé, plus est du Balzac d'époque, pourrait s'avérer mortellement ennuyeux, voire d'un introuvable intérêt narratif ou cinématographique. Nenni, les amis, c'est plutôt lumineusement brillant, d'une désarmante finesse introspective et d'un subtil jeu d'acteurs souvent impeccable. www.cinefiches.com
Back in the late 40's Max Ophuls planned a film of this Balzac novelle starring (wait for it!) Greta Garbo. He even had James Wong Howe shoot screen tests of the goddess. But he couldn't get anyone interested so she went back into retirement and he went to France ot make "La Ronde," "Le Plaisir," " Madame de. . ." and "Lola Montes."
The work of a Master. Rivette and Balibar (in an amazing performance) tease out the virgin coquette's contradictions without cheating any of her complexities. Rivette eschews the purple of the book but clarifies its relation to 2 of his own themes: the Great Love that cannot be begun or ended; and private spaces which restore personal sanity even while replicating the maddening demands of society as in a mirror.
On one level, a variation on La Belle et la Bete where Depardieu is both a human and beastial Marais and Balibar is Maria Cesares as Antoinette de Langeais. Yet also a Lubitsch romance under the gaze of Lang. Protagonists constantly seen walking though doors but never into, or out of, bed, while games which disguised their motives ultimately reveal their obsessions and "the pace that kills along the road to ruin."