The Duchess of Langeais (Ne touchez pas la hache) (Rivette, 2008)


Jacque Rivette’s riveting power play between a French general (Guillaume Depardieu) and a Duchess (Jeanne Balibar) reveals a true mastery of the film medium, playing on facial expressions, passing glances, and sudden outbursts of emotion to portray a singular vision of love lost. The film deconstructs ideas of heroism, “prince charming”, and romantic expectation, while boldly painting a picture of human interaction at its most expressive and doubt-ridden. Their secret courtship evolves like a call and response number, each side noticing the other with increasing interest only to be anchored by the restraint of tradition and social cues. Yet both characters’ slow and debilitating fall from grace occurs in almost isolation, physically separated by a sordid stream of communication (or lack thereof) achieved through notes, kidnappings, and gossip. Most impressively, Guillaume Depardieu’s beautifully physical performance encapsulates a resentful guilt that personifies the disease of uneasiness and mistrust between lovers, no better represented than in Rivette’s final pan away from his tortured hero onto a cold, endless, silent ocean.

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