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Arts & Culture

Lady Chatterley

Filmmaker Pascale Ferran streamlines the plot to eliminate peripheral elements and to focus narrowly on the two lovers. She employs scant dialogue and instead chooses to rely mostly on nature and the actions of the characters to weave her tale. Yet despite the more efficient narrative structure, Ferran drags out the story to nearly three hours in length--but the extended length yields little benefit. Ferran lacks the eye for detail that could make these slow moving scenes compelling. In order to lay the groundwork for Constance's affair, Ferran lingers over her daily routines and lack of anything interesting to do. The fact that very little happens for quite a long time made me think of a film in which a filmmaker was able to engross us with the mundane details of daily routines

Celeste . That film by Percy Adlon chronicled the duties of Marcel Prousts servant. But that film, seemingly inspired by Prousts own obsession with the minutest of details, found a way to turn nothing into something.

Jean-Louis Coulloc'h as the lover in Lady Chatterley (Kino)

Ferran, however, doesnt have this gift. Her scenes just feel languid and drawn out. Plus she has created the oddity of a rather bland film about awakening sexuality. The initial sexual encounters are all rather chastely rendered with the lovers completely covered and Ferrans camera often focused tightly on Constances face. I can see the design in her approach. She wants these first trysts to reveal a certain restraint as the lovers have not fully opened up to each other. And that's a fine artistic conceit, yet when Parkin finally disrobes her visual style and tone don't really change to match the change in the lovers. Instead, the frontal nude shot has a dry clinical feel to it as if the camera were looking at his naked body without the slightest bit of interest. There's a dull quality to the affair--it has neither the raw sexual tension of Last Tango in Paris nor the sweet joy of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. A naked frolic in the rain towards the end of the film tries to align the lovers' sexual awakening with nature but it comes off as rather silly.

Ferran does catch moments of tenderness between the two lovers that are unexpected and quietly rewarding. This being a French film, though, it seems to render the book's British starchiness about sex and class less important. But that also means that there is less for the two lovers to rebel against. Their love seems less forbidden and less dangerous in this milieu. The restraint in the performances of the two leads also keeps the film from being either a passionate romance or a sensual love story. Ferran hints at the contrast between the life affirming lovers and the bleakness offered by both industrialization and World War I.

Hands has a pretty plainness and dark searching eyes. There's something unfussy about her performance that's appealing yet she always remains somewhat aloof. Coulloc'h is a bit of a lug. He's not particularly handsome and he maintains a rather stone-faced appearance. It takes almost the entire film for him to build some emotional depth.

Lady Chatterley (unrated but for mature audiences, and in French with English subtitles) has a fine performance by Marina Hands and some tender moments. But in the end it feels a rather bland and dull affair.

Companion viewing: Women in Love, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Priest of Love (Ian McKellan as D.H. Lawrence), Celeste