Film-Forward Review: [LADY CHATTERLEY]

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Marina Hands as Lady Constance Reid
Photo: Kino International

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Directed by: Pascale Ferran.
Produced by: Gilles Sandoz.
Written by: Ferran & Roger Bohbot, based on John Thomas and Lady Jane.
Director of Photography: Julien Hirsch.
Edited by: Mathilde Muyard & Yann Dedet.
Music by: Béatrice Thiriet.
Released by: Kino International.
Language: French with English subtitles.
Country of Origin: France/Belgium. 168 min. Not Rated.
With: Marina Hands, Jean-Louis Coulloc’h, Hippolyte Girardot, Hélène Alexandridis & Hélène Fillières.

A quintessentially English novel has become a quintessentially French film in this adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s John Thomas and Lady Jane (named for the pet names of the lovers’ genitalia), an earlier version his Lady Chatterley’s Lover. As the film’s title implies, the focus centers on Lady Constance Reid (Marian Hands, who suggests a more delicate Audrey Tautou or a sensuous Julia Roberts.)

Only in her late twenties, she lives in virtual seclusion in her husband’s country estate. She spends her time reading, polishing silverware, working on her needlepoint, or nursing her husband, Sir Clifford (the nearly unflappable Hippolyte Girardot), who served in Flanders a few years earlier and returned home wheelchair bound.

Dressed in a modest tweed coat, plaid skirt, and auburn scarf for an autumn afternoon, she treks through the woods to deliver a request to the estate’s gamekeeper, Oliver Parkin. Approaching his hut, she stops in her tracks with a jolt. Through the trees, she spies Oliver with his shirt off, back to her, washing himself. She scurries away and crouches in the shade, stunned. The scene depicts an awakening rather than titillation, in contrast to the 1981 version (once a late-night Cinemax staple, starring French sexpot Sylvia Kristel, where this moment was played for all of its full-frontal potential).

Chatterley only returns to Oliver’s hut later, knowing he will by this time be fully dressed. Gradually scene by scene, writer/director Pascale Ferran follows Lawrence’s penetration of class barriers and sexual boundaries, frankly but not gratuitously. Undoubtedly lost in translation is the wide gulf between the lovers’ contrasting British dialects, and the boudoir banter isn’t as blunt as in Lawrence’s more famous version. Stoutly built and with thinning hair, the rugged Jean-Louis Coulloc’h as Oliver has a low-key, almost self-effacing presence throughout. Chatterley’s pursuit of their relationship comes across as more intellectual than anywhere sexual, the six sex scenes clinical and airless.

Their trysts are pretty much the most obvious secret in the mining village, and Sir Clifford’s marital policy must be don’t ask, don’t tell. As Connie experiences an orgasm for the first time and becomes more curious about Oliver’s anatomy, the film subtly mirrors Jane Fonda’s sexual coming of age in 1978’s Coming Home. Set during the Vietnam War, housewife Fonda beds an antiwar protestor, a paraplegic, while her military husband fights overseas. Lady Chatterley also feels very ’60s in its back-to-nature, inquisitive and defiant spirit. From beginning to end, the film’s a visual ode to nature, gorgeous but never opulent. But as the film nears its third hour, it’s hard not to shake off the notion that this isn’t just another high-brow, talky French film with the requisite amount of nudity, which ends on a muted note. Kent Turner
June 22, 2007



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