This battle-of-the-sexes set mostly in Paris in the mid-1800 feels so intense and obsessive and yet so playful and I can’t even point out where the playfulness stems from – the intertitles that interrupt important moments in the film that are delightful as opposed to annoying, the fact that the movie plays with time and yet pretends to remind us of the precise amount of time that has passed between events, the fact that characters are often literally revealed from behind a curtain as in a play or that there’s a scene where a character sets up the lighting, her pose and adjusts her profile prior to a meeting and underscores the staginess of what’s happening on screen or just a combination of all of these elements. In particular, in one scene, the Duchess is meeting the General for the third night in a row and she is asking him to complete his story (and we know from prior experience that this is not going to happen) and at this point, she actually glances sidelong directly at the camera and at us just for a moment as though inviting us to join her cat-and-mouse games.
I loved how different this period piece feels from all the other period pieces I’ve seen lately. Here everyone seems just a little bit ridiculous and instead of looking merely gorgeous and ornate (which everything does), the floorboards still creak and the rooms have things lying around instead of everything being in its place and everything looks just lived in. Both Depardieu and Balibar are great in the film and even while the film clearly focuses on the follies of these doomed lovers, the actors manage to make them sympathetic and lovable even. I don’t normally notice sound design (although recently there has been discussion about diegetic and non-diegetic sound on these forums that I’ve been reading with great interest) but there’s very little use of music in this film and I just loved the way we hear every sound as though we are in the room with these characters.