Not unlike the French Revolution upon which The Lady & The Duke is based, this movie will create a dichotomy amongst the citizens of the general movie-going population. The first crowd will consist of extremely satisfied French new wave fans and history connoisseurs. The second group, a herd of frustrated and disappointed hopefuls.
The Lady and the Duke, a movie by French film guru Eric Rohmer, tells the story of Grace Elliot, an Englishwoman residing in Paris during the French Revolution. Rohmer draws upon excerpts from her memoirs, which form the backbone of the film. With these chronicles, Rohmer finds a new way to tell an old story.
Rohmer resisted the temptation to indulge in the cozy comforts of overused special effects and instead took a more pictorial approach in this film. He projected hand-painted backgrounds by Jean-Baptiste Marot, onto a studio floor and subsequently keyed in his actors. This unusual approach gave Rohmer the creative means with which to accurately represent eighteenth century Paris, however, these meticulously precise paintings lacked depth, and made the movie extremely two-dimensional. It was almost as if you were watching a high school play on home video.
Admirably rebellious to Hollywood's seemed obsession with visual and sound effects, Rohmer may have in fact overdone it with his big-budget defiance and commitment to historical precision. A bona fide history fan may very well appreciate the exceptional attention to detail of Rue Miromesmil. However, most will find the overall effect false and artificial. As a result, this makes it especially difficult to really get into the show.
The harder it is to imagine the world of the movie (especially a period film), the harder it is to relate to the characters. Consequently, it's difficult for the viewer to really empathize with Grace Elliot's plight. Character development is at best distant and vague and Lucy Russell, the film's â€˜actrice principale' is stagnant and unmoving. This comes as a total disappointment after an entrancing performance as Nolan's femme fatale in Following. Lead actor Jean-Claude Dreyfus takes the meaning of a static character to a whole new level. As the Duke of Orleans, Dreyfus plays an annoying role filled with an abundance of bonjours and adieus with not much else in between.
Curiously enough, these flat characters do serve some creative purpose. Rohmer cleverly creates an ironic tone by basing the film in an era of enormous upheaval and violent revolution while featuring extremely dull and unchanging characters. Furthermore, irony is skillfully produced as the rise of a true libertarian, Maximillian Robespierre, results in a deep loss of freedom for many. These poetic twists do render the movie at the very least thought-provoking, but certainly not spell-binding.
Though Rohmer claims not to have made The Lady & The Duke for any political reasons, the characters do in fact spend a majority of their time ranting and raving over the Revolution and its leaders. Rohmer, who self-admittedly endeavours to "cultivate a taste for history in audiences," creates a film that feels more like an Aïœ|E History Special than a dramatic feature.
On the whole, the movie feels like a glorified history class. It was educational and challenging, but boring. And you want your money back.