24 March 2004 | bob998
Fabrice Luchini is wonderful
Benoit Jacquot's work hasn't been seen much in North America. His work doesn't have the slam-bang vulgarity of Patrice Chereau (Reine Margot) or the easy commercial charm of Patrice Leconte (Les Bronzes, M. Hire) to name two contemporaries. I liked Le septieme ciel and L'ecole de la chair very much--Jacquot has a real touch with actors, and he managed to coax some expression out of Isabelle Huppert in the latter film.
This one is like a French version of the Magnificent Ambersons; you have the same sense of a family crumbling through generational conflict. Jacquot isn't Welles, however, and there are stretches of dullness (those cafe scenes). The story couldn't be more timely: a CEO has just been released from prison after doing time for some dubious transactions. He's depressed, guilty at how his family have suffered, perplexed at the mixed signals his wife is sending. Luchini and Huppert are excellent at these short scenes of bitterness and frustration at home. Gregoire is a blend of criminal and Prince Mishkin, Luchini looks like Alec Guinness and plays wonderfully. Agnes is a tightly coiled woman who never breaks down; we wait for the explosion that never comes.
Stephanie the hairdresser is meant to represent the natural instincts that the Jeancourt family have tried to repress for so long. The scene between her and Agnes over the forgotten scarf is wonderfully uncomfortable (see it). Louis finally manages to blurt out, at the family dinner, that he has a daughter, born out of wedlock, whom he has never told his family about. The others don't hesitate for a second: congratulations are in order, emotional pain is chased away.