DAN­GLING CON­VER­SA­TIONS

GABRIELLE ★★★ Di­rected by Pa­trice Chéreau. Star­ring Is­abelle Hup­pert, Pas­cal Greg­gory, Clau­dia Coli, Thierry Han­cisse Club, IFI,, Dublin, 90 min

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - REVIEWS - Michael Dwyer

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)

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