Jean (Pascal Greggory), a successful publisher, is acutely aware of and deeply pleased with his high social standing, fine taste, and abundant material possessions, among which he seems to include his wife, Gabrielle (Isab... more »elle Huppert). But in a single af« less
Based on "The Return" by Joseph Conrad, "Gabrielle" tells the story of a woman in turn-of-the-century Paris who rebels against a loveless marriage.
Jean Hervey is a successful newspaper publisher whose life is ruled far more by social obligation and ritual than by emotion or passion. He extends this philosophy to all areas of his life, even to his own wife, whom he sees less as a person with a basic human need for intimacy and passion, than as an attractive ornament to be placed beside all the other artwork in his impressive collection of Greek statuary. He even proclaims rather proudly - as if it were evidence of his imperviousness to the weakness of the flesh - that, though he and his wife do share the same bedroom, they sleep in different beds. Yet, he is not above deluding himself into believing that he actually loves her, although he is the first to admit that real love requires far too much effort to really be worth his time. He takes pride in her "placid" nature, which he feels serves him well in her function as hostess for the dinner parties he throws for his friends like clockwork every Thursday night. One day, however, Jean's studiously ordered world is shattered when he finds a note from Gabrielle informing him that she has run off with another man. A few moments later, though, Gabrielle mysteriously returns home, having been unable to make that final break for reasons not entirely fathomable either to herself or to us. The remainder of the film is spent examining the couple's efforts to cope with the situation.
This theme - of an aristocratic, free-spirited woman trapped in a figurative gilded cage by either the man in her life or society as a whole - was not exactly a novel one even at the time the story was written, but what separates "Gabrielle" from similar works is its unique concentration on the man instead of the woman, on HIS repression and inadequacies rather than hers. This leads to a conclusion rich in irony as Jean, the passionless purveyor of propriety, becomes ever more eaten up by his own jealousies and obsessions. Jean reveals much of what he's thinking through voiceover narration, as Gabrielle serves as a catalyst for his own emotional revolution.
If "Gabrielle" reminds us of anything, it is of a film by Ingmar Bergman, one in which the characters talk out the minutiae of their relationships and their innermost feelings and thoughts at almost agonizing length - tedious to some in the audience, perhaps, but fascinating to others. Patrice Chereau and Anne-Louise Trividic's literate screenplay plumbs the depths of the two souls involved, while Chereau's direction keeps things moving by employing a camera that sweeps with almost reckless abandon through the dusky rooms and crowded salons where the action takes place.
Isabelle Huppert and Pascal Greggory are perfectly cast foils as the husband and wife for whom "love" is no longer a viable option. Each of the actors seethes with an intensity that reveals the passions that have long lain dormant under the couple's placid exteriors.
Although Gabrielle may be the first of the two to throw off the cloak of respectability and go for what really matters, it is Jean's intense struggle with his own inner demons that commands most of our attention. For despite the title being "Gabrielle," the film turns out to be much more Jean's story in the end than hers."
MICHAEL ACUNA | Southern California United States | 01/04/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Operatic in tone (director Patrice Chereau has mounted numerous stage and opera productions), based on a short story by Joseph Conrad, beautifully costumed and photographed, acted in the high-toned manner of an Ibsen or Chekhov play, "Gabrielle" nonetheless proves to be rooted in the basest of emotions: Jealousy, Envy, Hate, Disgust and of course, Love. Isabelle Huppert as Gabrielle and Pascal Greggory as her husband Jean Hervey are rich, entitled and seemingly cold as ice, frozen emotionally even. Jean is a man whose friends tell him he possesses "the cold stare of achievement." Both he and Gabrielle are seemingly content with their loveless and sex-less marriage, their place in Society: that is until one day Gabrielle admits she is having an affair. Set at the beginning of the 20th Century, La Belle Epoque, reeking of Velvet Brocades, Absinthe, Salon Thursdays in which Artists of every nature perform, servants who brush off the "Master's" shoes every time he enters the house, "Gabrielle" literally suffocates with hot-house, jasmine scented period touches which serve to heighten and underscore the raging tempest brewing in Chez Hervey. In many ways, "Gabrielle" recalls the savage, similarly themed "Closer" of a few years back in its go for the jugular manner. But whereas "Closer" operates in the contemporary world in which derision, infidelity and online porn are in your face...accepted even expected, "Gabrielle's" 1912 world, though just as emotionally brutal and stagnate, is hidden, closeted, tight as Gabrielle's corseted torso."
Scenes from a Loveless Marriage.
G. Merritt | Boulder, CO | 10/23/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Surprisingly, this film received only a limited release in U.S. theaters. It opened in 2006 at the IFC Center in Manhattan before going straight to cable through IFC (which is where I first discovered it). Adapted from Joseph Conrad's short story, "The Return," Patrice Chéreau's Gabrielle (filmed in black-and-white and color) tells the story of a self-absorbed husband, Jean (Pascal Greggory), whose wife, Gabrielle (Isabelle Huppert), leaves him for another man on their tenth anniversary, then changes her mind. Gabrielle says goodbye to Jean in a letter, a gesture which reveals Jean's many shortcomings not only as a husband, but as a person. Jean, we learn, loves Gabrielle "as a collector loves his most prized object." The film (truly an emotional roller coaster in the tradition of Bergman's Scenes From a Marriage) is more than a character study in arrogance and self-absorbtion. It becomes a film not so much about the disintegration of a loveless marriage, as the awakening of a woman who has come to realize how awful it is to eat with someone in a marriage who isn't hungry (as Gabrielle describes her marriage to her personal servant, Yvonne, played by Claudia Coli). Huppert is stunning as an emotionally estranged women, and Greggory's performance is exceptional. The film is rich in emotional honesty and hard truths about male-female relationships. For many, this prolonged argument between a married couple will not be an easy film to watch.
Civility under pressure
Reader | Boca Raton, FL | 08/21/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Made after Conrad's short story "Return", this is a story of a wealthy, married couple living in predictable, stable marriage surrounded by luxury, art, salon gatherings and -- emotional restraint. Husband is a self made rich man who finds all beauty around him to be something to collect and adore from a distance. Wife on the other hand is the epithomy of class, good manners, classical beauty. Isabel Huppert is known for being able to deliver solid performance for complicated characters. Her face, beauty and the way she moves enhances the regal surroundings of the household visitors she moves around, dress she is wearing, music she listens to. But when she leaves all that for another man and then comes back to her husband within less than two hours, it opens up all the questions between her, her spouse, her relationship with the house servants, and weekly guests that are regulars at their salon. The visual beauty of the movie turns inside out to the beauty of the words and language between all these individuals that are part of such traumatic development in the household considered to be content on the way things ought to be in the high society of the 20th century. This movie is developing almost in slow motion where viewer becomes willing participant in torturing revelation about husband and wife, power switch in their marriage and realization of the truth that eventually distroys them and their relationship completely. P. Greggory and I. Huppert mash so well in their battle with words, it is absolutely tantalizing to let go of them for even a minute."
Conrad, Chéreau, Huppert, Greggory: Exquisite Quartet for GA
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 01/01/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Patrice Chéreau is one of the giants of entertainment, whether in his direction of operas (his Wagner RING remains a gold standard), plays, or his films. He is a thoroughgoing artist, one who combines great intellect with a keen ear for music, camera movement, atmosphere, the spoken and unspoken word, and for accompanying some of the finest actors at work today in their realization of his visions.
GABRIELLE is a case in point and for this viewer this is simply one of the strongest films to come out of France - a country much celebrated for its cinematic genius - in many years. Inspired by Joseph Conrad's short story 'The Return' and adapted as a screenplay by Anne-Louise Trividic and Chéreau, the story is a brief history of a married couple whose ten-year marriage alters in one afternoon and evening - the time span of the film.
Jean Hervey (Pascal Greggory) is a handsome man of wealth who 'acquired' a wife Gabrielle (Isabelle Huppert) ten years ago. They live in a mausoleum of magnificent art and base their existence on the glamorous parties attended by the artists and patrons of the arts in turn of the century Paris. Jean's 'acquisition' of Gabrielle included the understanding that they would have no intimacy: they do sleep in the same bedroom but in separate beds. Their marriage seems perfect - but it is hollow. Rather abruptly Gabrielle leaves a note on the dresser addressed to Jean, a note that states she has left him for a man: her need for sexual gratification has risen to the breaking point. Jean is devastated, but as he nurses his broken glass-injured hand Gabrielle returns: she could not go through with ending the marriage of convenience. The two have extended verbal exchanges and physical abuse but it is only to the servants that Gabrielle shares her true feelings. She decides to structure her marriage to Jean by submitting to him sexually, a status that is novel to their marriage, and it is this role reversal of the masculine/feminine state that sends Jean panicked into the night.
Chéreau uses many techniques to render this story about intimacy (or the lack thereof) that strongly support the power of the film: sections are in black and white representing the way things appear and are structured to the planned observation; Raina Kabaivanska plays and sings at a soirée (she is an actual opera star); Jean's staff of servants is only women instead of the usual mix of men and women; the musical score by the brilliant Italian contemporary composer Fabio Vacchi is used as a 'character' instead of background support; and the camera work by cinematographer Eric Gautier uses a full cinemascope camera set up to add weight to the project.
But none of these subtleties would have worked so perfectly without the brilliance of acting of Isabelle Huppert and Pascal Greggory. They find the core of these strange characters and allow us to understand the rather warped psyches of the pair. It is a feat of genius. As an added DVD feature there is an extended conversation with Chéreau, Huppert and Greggory about the film from the intial idea to the finished product and hearing these three brilliant artists share their insights is for once extremely additive to the film. This rather dark and brooding film may be a bit too static for some, but for lovers of cinematic art it is a complete triumph to experience. Grady Harp, January 07"