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'Lady And The Duke, The'

Director gives French Revolution a stagy feel

Friday, August 02, 2002

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

And now for something, well, not completely different but rather off the beaten track for Eric Rohmer, the veteran French director of austere contemporary love stories.

 
 
'The Lady
And
The Duke'

RATING: PG-13 for some violent images

STARRING: Lucy Russell, Jean-Claude Dreyfus

DIRECTOR: Eric Rohmer

WEB SITE: www.sonyclassics
.com/ladyandtheduke

CRITIC'S CALL:


Find local movie times and more at Zap2it.com

   
 

"The Lady and the Duke," now at the Harris Theater, takes place during the French Revolution. It was inspired by the memoirs of Grace Elliott, a Scot who was the mistress of the future King George IV of England. Later, she became lover of the Duke of Orleans, a cousin of Louis XVI who eventually sympathized with the Jacobins.

The events in the movie occur after Grace (Lucy Russell) and the Duke (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) have ended their affair but not their friendship. She is an unabashed royalist, to the point where the Duke keeps warning her to keep her political opinions to herself for her own safety.

His position is much more nebulous. He supports the rebels, as much in response to personal slights from the king as for real belief in their cause. By trying to play both sides, he ends up in the middle with the walls closing in. As a foreign national, Lucy should be safe. But her politics and her relationship with the Duke bring her under suspicion.

Rohmer's interest in the subject was sparked by a magazine article about Elliott that mentioned (wrongly, as it turned out) that her town house was still standing on Rue Miromesnil. He was fascinated by the idea of the house as a safe haven in the midst of the storm.

Thus, he was determined to make Paris look as it did in that era. His solution was to use painted backdrops as his exterior sets, digitally inserting the actors. It gives the film a unique look and a stagy feel, like we are watching a history pageant instead of a movie.

The distancing effect is vintage Rohmer, but it exacerbates the film's dramatic inertia. Too many scenes in the movie feature Grace and the Duke talking about events like participants in a history debate, although in other moments her fiery defense of the king rubs up against his fence straddling with intriguing results.

But the film really rankles because of its episodic nature. It is divided into five sections, several of which end abruptly. The movie builds tension, for example, over Grace harboring a wanted fugitive at the risk of her own life and then shrugs off the outcome with a line that isn't even spoken but written on the screen, taken directly from the memoir.

If Grace didn't experience it, we don't see it. I understand the concept, but it makes for a frustrating movie.

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