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RATED Not Rated
STUDIO MPI Home Video
RUNNING TIME 97 Minutes
Beautiful 16-year-old Junie, attends a new school only to find herself in love with her charming Italian teacher while also pursued by a fellow student. The attractions of the mysterious Junie are the centerpiece of this modern adaptation of Mademoiselle de Chartres’ classic novel “The Princess of Cleves.”
Christophe Honoré (Director), Léa Seydoux, Louis Garrel and Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet
A romantic tragedy based on a classic novel told with at least one unique twist.
Early Léa Seydoux from her native country. Even though there is a whole film here, it is this thing right here that is the most monumental. Not her first role, but clearly a part that defined her as something more that a pretty face. Her character is the one that everything else in the story rotates around, even though there are quite a few scenes focusing on other members of the ensemble cast.
The story is a modernization of a classic french novel that is often considered to be the start of the psychological novel, La Princesse de Cléves. The novel told of a young girl brought to court of Henri II, where she finds a young suitor with a good background to fill her need. She gets married, falls in love with a duke, but never acts on it. The husband finds out about the forbidden love interest, believes she has cheated on him and dies of a broken heart. The film has the girl going to Paris and living with her cousin, who sets her up with his respectable friend. Her forbidden love comes in the form of an Italian teacher. Some things change, but most of the main concepts remain the same.
One of the biggest faults of the film is it attempts to juggle too many similar characters in too short of time. There is a side story which in the book was about the girl’s uncle and the queen, but in the film is about her male cousin and his closeted homosexual love triangle. The girls being used as cover are shuffled in and out of scenes so instead of maintaining a strong presence, the girls become little more than wallpaper, with almost no emotional attachment. The other student who was originally in love with the teacher appears towards the end of the film, as if there is to be a continuation of her story, but it never goes back to her. Not every character has to have a set ending, but when you tease the ending it should be given, even if it doesn’t have a resolution.
The other big thing that bugged me was the crazy choice to have a key character toward the resolution of the film decide to break out in song. In as strange ape of a musical aside, a key character at the height of their drama mysteriously starts singing into the camera. They sing while going though crowds of people and nobody notices. This might be ok if this was the film adaption of Chicago or Les Misables, but this was a dramatic, psychological coming of age romance that subsequently loses the impact the scene could have had by choosing to include this musical piece in it.
Excluding the sabotaging musical scene, the film itself plods along at a measured pace, verging on slow quite a few times though the character development does get a chance to pull through. The entire ensemble is extremely believable, even if a few don’t exactly stand out enough to keep them separate, they all define the film as a character study with a lot of heart and soul going into the characters.
The scenery enhances the story. It is always dreary and overcast with only a few exceptions that match the feel of the story. The diner where everyone hangs out is very representative of the artistic culture their school seems based in. The school play a lot with black and white, and once again that is reflected in the story as the characters all appear established while on school grounds, it’s when they leave them that the cracks begin to show. The music is also greatly tied into the flow of the film, mixing many English vocals with french Vocals. Even the sing-a-long in the end that breaks the story telling mechanism still adheres to the musical flavor previously defined in the film.
Overall, the director did a good choice bringing all of these together into a well shot and interesting film, but it was also his decision to include the singing number. Without the taint of that one scene I may have given the film 3 stars, but due to the amount of atmosphere that scene ruins, it takes it down to a high 2.0 or low 2.5.
The lack of any special features force the 2 star rating.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars