The Lady and the Duke is a brilliant cinematic masterpiece by the great French New Wave director of cinema Eric Rohmer who was honored at the 2001 Venice International Film Festival with a retrospective of his work. The previous recipient of the Venice Golden Lion in 1985 for 'Le Rayon Vert' (Summer) and a Special Jury Prize in 1975 for 'The Marquise of O' his latest film is the true story of a young Scottish aristocratic woman, Mrs. Grace Elliot (played by Lucy Russell), trapped in Paris during the French Revolution. It is based on her memoirs, 'Journal of My Life. During the Revolution a reputation of being an amorous woman is part of her legend including affairs with the Prince of Wales and Philippe Duke of Orleans, ( Jean-Claude Dreyfus). Their relationship is an 'amour fou' because her association with him may lead her to the guillotine, confirming Freud's theory of sex and the death drive being indeed intertwined. Nevertheless Elliot decides to stay in Paris despite the brewing of revolution. It is of course a great switch to hear history from the viewpoint of a female foreign aristocrat much to Rohmer's credit.
The master painter Thomas Gainsborough immortalized Elliot in a portrait and with this in mind Rohmer uses digital technology to create a panorama of painted backdrops by Jean-Baptiste Marot, an exquisite series of paintings where the actors look like they emerged straight out of an animated pop up book, giving the film a sense of hyperrealism. Of course as in the latest 'Star Wars', it required that the actors were shot in blue screen before the paintings were added in. Quite revealing is Rohmer's take on the French revolution revealing that the patriots were a group of lecherous drunken slobs which makes the film controversial. The film is formal in the sense of Rohmer and captivating in the sense of a true cinematic wonderland Though Dreyfus as the Duke is a bit stiff the work of Lucy Russel is brilliant, making her one of the most exceptional leading ladies of international cinema. Actually Rohmer admitted at the Venice International Film Festival, where the film was first presented last year, in not being so interested in the French revolution but in the meticulous artwork which the film exudes in spades. But in part we can say he does not seem to be against the chants shouted out at the Bastille 'String up all the aristocrats', that is except Miss Elliot whose passionate heart brought her close to danger.
This is Moira Sullivan for Movie Magazine International, Venice Italy
© 2002 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 5/02
The Lady and the Duke Pop-Up Film