Let it never be said that old dogscan't learn new tricks. Eric Rohmer, the octogenarian legend of the New Wave, has taken up digital video.Most directors using digital video are doing so because it's cheaper than film. They haven't really considered the visual effect of transferring DV to film for large-screen projection. Tadpole, which opens this week, was shot on DV, and the transfer makes it look tawdry. Wayne Wang's The Centre Of The World, studiously underlit throughout, looks like mud in a 35mm transfer.
Rohmer has turned to DV to recreate revolutionary Paris, most of which simply no longer exists. So he "built" Paris in a series of paintings and put the actors into this imaginary space. How strange to see the Place de la Concorde stripped of the Egyptian obelisk Napoleon deposited in its centre.
But rather than create the film as a kind of "history 101" primer in French art, he's chosen to tell a story set in the 1790s by using the visual grammar of modern painting.
The film is based on the revolutionary diaries of Grace Elliott, a Scotswoman who had been an intimate of the Prince of Wales before moving to France in the late 1780s. There she became intimate with the Duc D'Orleans, a cousin of Louis XVI. The Lady And The Duke looks at the Revolution from an unabashedly Royalist perspective. Indeed, a good chunk of the film is Elliott arguing with D'Orleans about the latter's revolutionary sympathies.
Throughout his career, Rohmer has seemed the least "visual" of directors, though he had access to great cinematographers like Nestor Almendros. But his period films, The Marquise Of O, Percival and now The Lady And The Duke, reveal a barely tapped longing for a world where people wear elaborate costumes and set themselves in heroic landscapes. And regardless of costumes and finery, these are still Eric Rohmer characters, so of course they talk a blue streak.
The Lady And The Duke isn't merely an historical film, but a film about how we understand historical events, all in a ferociously dramatic context. With Rohmer's ability to distill any event down to two people arguing in a room, this film puts a very human face on a monumental historical moment.
THE lady and the duke written and directed by Eric Rohmer, from Journal Of My Life During The French Revolution, by Grace Elliott, produced by Françoise Etchegaray, with Jean-Claude Dreyfus and Lucy Russell. 123 minutes. A Mongrel Media release. Opens Friday (July 26). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 85. Rating: NNNN