LADY CHATTERLEY directed by Pascale Ferran, written by Ferran and Roger Bohbot, with Marina Hands, Jean-Louis Coullo'ch and Hippolyte Girardot. 168 minutes. Subtitled. A Seville release. Opens Friday (August 31). Rating: NNN
D.H. Lawrence is one of those writers you need to encounter at exactly the right moment and then never read again.
I didn't get Lawrence at 19, thought he was a genius when I was 25, then re-assessed him in my mid-30s. At a certain point, all that nature worship and potent sexuality just makes you think, "Okay, I get it, but you didn't invent sex, you know. "
But that hasn't stopped filmmakers from acting as if he did. This is at least the fourth movie adaptation of Lady Chatterley's Lover (writer/director Pascale Ferran is working from the earlier draft of the novel, John Thomas And Lady Jane) and the second in French, Danielle Darrieux having assayed the role of Constance Chatterley in 1955.
I can't help but wonder if this film's striking success in France - it was nominated for nine Césars and won five, including best picture and cinematography, as well as an acting prize for star Marina Hands - has less to do with the sexual awakening theme, which is pretty old hat to the French, than with the fact that the French have as obsessive a relationship with country houses as do most Torontonians with their cottages.
Indeed, Seville's decision to release Lady Chatterley in late August is fairly odd, because the people who might be interested in Lady Chatterley are probably up at their summer homes doing things we see a lot of in the movie: gardening, walking in the woods, making stopgap repairs on rustic structures.
The walking in the woods business is one reason for Lady Chatterley's nearly three-hour running time. There's almost as much walking in the woods as there is sex. The film would run 130 minutes had Ferran figured out a way to get Lady Chatterley to the gamekeeper's house a bit faster.
It's certainly "award-winning filmmaking," with the customary focus on pre-digital virtues like meticulous period recreation of the "what kind of underwear did upper-class women wear in 1923?" type and "let's wait for the sun to dapple the meadow just so." Cinematographer Julien Hirsch has worked with Godard on his recent features, so he's attuned to what can be done with natural light.
Whether it's because of changes in our sensibility in the last century or so or because of the the way she treats it, in Ferran's hands Lawrence's once banned material is suddenly tastefully old-fashioned. In the sex scenes, the period trappings are far more reassuring than the boinking is transgressive.
Ooooh, look, they're running naked in the rain! Fifty years later it was Woodstock.