Latest French film a “cinematic sleeping pill

Kirsten Rusinak

After sitting for more than two-and-a-half hours, the fourth film of the Tournées Film Festival, “The Duchess of Langeais,” proved to be little more than one long, frustrating game of playing hard to get, or as one viewer described, “a cinematic sleeping pill.”
I rarely let my cynical side seep into the genre of romantic French films, however, this time around, I can’t help but agree with the sleepy terminology.
The film opens in the year 1823 on the Spanish isle of Majorca. General Armand de Montriveau, played by Guillaume Depardieu, has been searching for his lover, Duchess Antoinette de Langeais, played by Jeanne Balibar, for five years, only to find that she has become a cloistered Carmelite nun.
With the realization that Armand won’t be getting any, the film flashes back five years to the start of their love affair.
The scene is set in Paris during the Restoration, a time when France’s “dominant values [were] hypocrisy, social niceties and appearances” according to the presenter of the film.
Armand, a war hero and general of Napoleon’s army, has just returned from the deserts of Africa and cares little about Parisian society. Overall, he’s awkward, unrefined, and rarely changes his facial expression from a disinterested stare. Antoinette, a sophisticated Parisian socialite, is the complete opposite of Armand.
At a social event, Armand asks for the acquaintance of Antoinette. The two fall for each other the moment they meet and Antoinette agrees to let him court her each evening from eight to ten as social etiquette allows. The Duchess is married but we conveniently never see her husband, nor does he ever catch on to the affair.
The story drags on only to prove that Armand didn’t even get any before Antoinette became a nun. The climax of the story takes place when the tables turn and Antoinette becomes obsessed with Armand, causing the power role to shift once again. But who didn’t see that coming?
A running time of two-and-a-half hours is typical for director Jacques Rivette; however, my criticism extends beyond the film’s length.
One student explained it perfectly: The film takes itself so seriously that you want to burst out laughing at all the wrong moments. I too found myself muffling my laughter and whispering sarcastic comments at scene after scene of Armand about to jump Antoinette as she tries to come up with a dignified rejecting response.
What’s more, the film grade is of poor quality, coming across like the BBC channel: pixilated, dark, and with few camera angles. Instead of depicting time of day through light change or other cinematic clues, random black screens make disruptive announcements. Sometimes the screens even announced the emotional states of the characters. Aren’t the actors themselves responsible for that?
One review described Antoinette as a “stately oil painting” causing one to admire her more than care for her. This comment reflects my feelings towards “The Duchess of Langeais” as a whole. If you want to view a period piece then I suggest you watch it. You can enjoy authentic scenes and costumes. If you want to feel engaged through emotion and humor, then it’s best to avoided.