GABRIELLE ★★★ Directed by Patrice Chéreau. Starring Isabelle Huppert, Pascal Greggory, Claudia Coli, Thierry Hancisse Club, IFI,, Dublin, 90 min
A RENAISSANCE man of French culture over the past 30 years, Patrice Chéreau moves with ease and equal levels of empathy between directing for cinema, theatre and opera. Gabrielle, his 10th feature, represents a fusion of his interests in its essentially twohander form and the theatrical confines of the house that is its principal setting, and in its dramatic use of an orchestral score to accentuate its shifting moods.
Surprisingly, Chéreau opts for a visual treatment that feels less assured and is unusually stylised, employing distracting captions and dialogue extracts that fill the screen and scream at the viewer, and abrupt shifts between colour and black-and-white. What has not changed is his skill with actors, and he elicits quite remarkable performances from Pascal Greggory and Isabelle Huppert as Henry and Gabrielle Hervey, a couple adrift in a loveless, childless marriage.
The film is based on Joseph Conrad’s short story, The Return, which viewed this relationship entirely from the male perspective. Chéreau re-shapes the material, transposing the drama from 1890s London to early 1910s Paris, and building the character of Gabrielle to the point where her name becomes the title of his adaptation.
A bustling exterior sequence introduces Henry as a wealthy, vain and arrogantly self-satisfied publisher proud of his social status, his Thursday night dinner parties for his fellow bourgeoisie, and the possessions that line his elegantly furnished home, among which he includes his wife. The distance between them is emphasised in the vast space that separates them when they sit in the same room.
Emotion is anathema to Henry – or so he believes until Gabrielle writes him a letter to say that she has left him for another man.
Greggory and Huppert rise to the challenge of the loquacious war of words that ensues with jolting consequences to surprise both spouses. The atmosphere is glacial in Chéreau’s rigorous and compelling chamber piece as it clinically dissects the disintegrating marriage of this mismatched couple. (opens Wednesday)