Monday, 6 December 2010

Lady Chatterley

Lowdown: A French take on the story of the English lady falling in love with the servant.
Over the years I have seen me several adaptations of the Lady Chatterley story, but this 2006 release is by far the weirdest: set in England with English clothing, English characters and all, this Lady Chatterley is a French production speaking French and featuring French actors. I’m so used to English’s dominancy that hearing an English story told in French feels bizarre.
It may be told in French, but the story is roughly the same as before. Taking place probably around the early 1920’s, Lady Chatterley (Marina Hands) is married to a wealthy husband and lives with him and a bunch of servants at a castle with huge grounds. The sir of the house (Hippolyte Girardot) has been injured in WW1, rendering him sexually dysfunctional. Normal cravings for sex and for a child open the door for the lady to fall in love with her husband’s gamekeeper (Jean-Louis Coullo'ch), starting off a tale of forbidden love.
The trick with this version of Lady Chatterley is not in the story but rather in the way the story is told. Two and a half seconds into the film you figure out this film is going to be slow on its going abouts. Shots tend to linger, and although long cuts are not the order of the day the slowness of English country life is more than emphasized: a walk in the woods, for example, features lots of shots of the character walking in the woods mixed with intermittent shots of woods - just the woods. Generally speaking I don’t have a problem with slowly developed films, but in my opinion this one gets to you, especially given the film’s longer than two hours’ duration.
Indeed, eccentricities know no bounds with this one, narration being the next example: As we start off we get the occasional captioned narration, but as the film progresses we receive voice over narration. Only later does it become apparent who the narrator is, and it never becomes apparent how they got to know everything to the point they're able to narrate. Oh, and in between major scenes you get a fadeout followed by a few seconds of a blackout. As I said, eccentric.
Best scene:
The husband and wife go on a stroll by the woods, the husband riding a motorized chair. As they walk they discuss socialism, and the husband discounts it saying that low class people are always in need of a master; then he gets stuck as his chair’s engine won’t take him up a hill, but he still refuses offers to have his chair pushed.
I find this scene interesting because of what it tells us of the husband: he trusts machinery that doesn’t deliver more than he trusts people; he’s not only dead in some of his body, but he’s deal mentally, too.
Then again, we might mock the husband’s anti humanist approach, but aren’t the religions most of us worship designed to keep the masters in power in the first place? We should look at ourselves before we mock the husband’s figure.
Notable scene:
The lady and her lover decorate each other’s pubic hair with flowers. Indeed, there is a lot of nudity in the film, as has always been in Lady Chatterley’s various adaptations. If memory serves me right this French version – perhaps by virtue of it being French – sports more than its serious predecessors.
It is therefore important to note the way nudity is portrayed. We witness characters in the nude and we see them having sex, but it does not feel like pornography – at least not the pornography one is used to seeing under that label. I would say that what we see in Lady Chatterley are normal people dealing with their bodies the way normal people do, procreation included. It’s good to see film treat such subject matters adequately.
Overall: While there are some interesting aspects to this Lady Chatterley interpretation, I could not avoid being too bored for comfort by its slowness. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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