Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Three films

There were two films on TV recently which I vaguely felt I ought to see but which I didn't think would call for my close attention. They were both three hours long, so when I watched them I had a book and a packet of Lincoln Creams close to hand to which I turned when events on the screen were failing to grip.

One of them was Alexander, Oliver Stone's 2004 epic. Colin Farrell was grotesquely miscast as the great conqueror and the thing was more of a lecture than a drama, with Anthony Hopkins pottering about as the narrator. There were a couple of lively but repetitive battles and nothing much else to distract me from my book; I was looking out for the always excellent Tim Pigott-Smith who apparently played the part of an Omen Reader but sadly I must have missed him.

Lady Chatterley et l'Homme des Bois was Pascale Ferran’s 2006 adaptation of D. H. Lawrence’s John Thomas and Lady Jane, the remarkably different second version of his celebrated Lady Chatterley’s Lover. It is a big improvement on Marc Allegret's 1955 version of the final edition, though this is not saying very much since the latter had Danielle Darrieux doing her I-am-beautiful bit with the ineffably gentlemanly Leo Genn speaking slow, careful French as the coarse gamekeeper. It was banned in the United States.

Ferran's shot at Lawrence features a couple of competent but unremarkable actors playing characters who could never conceivably utter the lines in the book, but as they are speaking French this doesn't matter; the subtitles wisely don't even try to capture the flavour of Lawrence's dialogue. I used the fast-forward button quite often—not, I hasten to add, to get to the soft-porn sequences, which are fairly risible, but only to skip the parts where nothing much seemed to be happening.

The director thought highly of her film, observing: “The story is literally overrun by vegetation.... To me, that’s the most beautiful thing: the story of a love that is one with the material experience of transformation”. This is a fairly obscure remark, but those who remember the lovers' way with flowers will know what she means. Certainly, the scenery is nice and for long periods there is nothing much else to look at. Perhaps the film should have been reviewed by Amateur Gardening, or, from a different aspect, by the American magazine Track and Field, which found the book inadequate fifty years ago.

By chance, earlier that week on the big screen I had seen another French film based on a famous novel: The Lacemaker, directed in 1977 by Claude Goretta and based on the 1974 Prix Goncourt winning novel La Dentellière by Pascal Lainé.

Isabelle Huppert, then only 22, was mesmerizing; she has never done anything better. I was glad to have seen it: in those days the French knew how to make films about love.

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