Monday, April 23, 2007
TFF -- LADY CHATTERLEY
Lady Chatterley (coming to the Tribeca Film Festival) is a (very) French film based on D H Lawrence's second version (there were three) of the story of Lady Chatterley. (It was published as John Thomas and Lady Jane. The well-known version is #3, published as Lady Chatterley's Lover.) It was directed and co-written by Pascale Ferran, with Marina Hands playing Lady Chatterley, and Jean-Louis Coulloc'h, her lover.
I found the film life-affirming and charming.
I do sometimes find myself a little distanced by films in one language portraying people in another. (For example, I found the well-crafted British accents to be at odds with the hoodlum like behavior of the Romans they were portraying in the TV series Rome.) This film is, of course, spoken in French; but more important, it has a French sensibility; it is filmed in a French landscape, and it feels French, though the characters, of course, are English and live on an English estate.
There are several aspects to the novel. The writer/director was very selective in picking which to emphasize.
She chose to tone down the class difference between the Lady and the gamekeeper. Her husband calls the gamekeeper uncouth; but he is quite couth. (The actor, actually, resembles Marlon Brando quite strongly at times.) He is sensitive, caring, well (though simply) spoken and very well dressed in elegantly rough clothes. (The costume designer could have taken it a bit easier, I think, on his outfits, though she did win an award for her effort). The characters do refer to their relative positions, but it is more a simple fact than a central element in their relationship.
The director concentrated heavily on the role of nature, which she felt was particularly prominent in this version of the novel. The film is very close to the earth, the changing seasons, the flowers, the flow of water, and the rest of nature. The cinematography is excellent.
And sex is approached as something the characters discover in each other and themselves, as they timidly develop a relationship. Except in teen movies, where it is often played just for laughs or embarrassment, films usually skip over those stages of a relationship where both physical and emotional intimacy develop. Mostly, in films, characters meet, time passes somehow, and then they are sexually involved. That "somehow," with the evolution of sexual activities responding to the level of emotional involvement is a strong focus in this film. (The film features both male and female nudity, but sexual relations are not portrayed with the same level of detail as in, say, 9 Songs.)
It should be noted that the film moves ahead at a very languid pace, and it is very long (168 min). I suspect the director would really have liked for the film to evolve in real-time (and several years pass from the beginning to the end).
I found the film to be sometimes funny, and -- when the characters' behavior goes over the top (as in the rain-dance in the picture above) -- sometimes even a bit silly, in the way that improv comedy may suddenly discover a ridiculous truth.
The production won Cesar awards in France for Best Film, Best Actress: Marina Hands, Best Writing: Pascale Ferran, as well as awards for best costume design and cinematography; it also had nominations for Best Director, sound, and production design. Curiously, although Marina Hands won the Best Actress award, she was nominated but did not win as Most Promising Actress. (Perhaps a logician decided that her acting had passed the promising stage and so she was not eligible to win that award.) Her acting is quite wonderful (love to watch her eyes).