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Review: The Lady and the Duke

Eric Rohmer’s film is an economical antidote to the bloated costume drama.

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The Lady and the Duke
Photo: Sony Pictures Classics

Eric Rohmer’s The Lady and the Duke is an economical antidote to the bloated costume drama, a visually primitive delineation of the French Revolution that toys with conventional cinematic presentation. Like Marquise of O and Perceval, The Lady and the Duke questions the authenticity of history as it is presented to the masses. The film’s exteriors were shot on blue-screen backgrounds with 18th-century paintings superimposed during the editing process. The memoir of Grace Elliott (Lucy Russell), an Englishwoman who lived in Paris during the revolution, is Rohmer’s source material. Grace’s relationship to her former lover, the Duke of Orleans (Jean-Claude Dreyfus), does little to prevent the execution of King Louis XVI, whose death adds fire to the Reign of Terror. While Rohmer’s anti-revolutionary stance is more than evident, The Lady in the Duke is too ambiguous in all the wrong places. The extent of the sexual relationship between the titular figures is unclear though Russell fabulously evokes Elliot’s many political conflictions—her devotion to her cause and loyalty to her friends. While Rohmer’s dialogue grows weary, there’s always the fascinating artificiality of his video experiment. His exteriors recall Zbigniew Rybczynski’s famous Tango (which inspired Garth Jenning’s video clip for R.E.M.’s “Imitation of Life”) and forces the spectator to question that which is most visually important in the frame. Rohmer’s interiors are considerably less evocative though they’re the perfect setting for what plays out like 18th-century Jacobin pornography. The effect is disorienting, mildly humorous, and sometimes taut, like the hiding of Champcenetz (Léonard Cobiant) under Elliot’s bed mattress.

Cast: Lucy Russell, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, François Marthouret, Léonard Cobiant, Caroline Morin, Alain Libolt, Héléna Dubiel, Laurent Le Doyen, Serge Wolfsperger, Daniel Tarrare, Charlotte Véry, Rosette, Marie Rivière, Michel Demierre, Serge Renko, Christian Ameri, Eric Viellard Director: Eric Rohmer Screenwriter: Eric Rohmer Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics Running Time: 125 min Rating: NR Year: 2001 Buy: Video

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