A middle-aged French couple in turn of the century France suffer a complete marital breakdown. Based on the short story 'The Return' by Joseph Conrad.
In seeking to expand a Joseph Conrad short story, Patrice Chéreau and regular co-scenarist Anne-Louise Trividic have lost none of the intimate intensity of their source. However, the original was told entirely from the perspective of a 1910s husband, who can’t understand why his seemingly devoted wife would suddenly betray him, and the need to flesh out her character to justify the casting of the ever-excellent Isabelle Huppert hamstrings the action.
The lustrous period photography and melancholic score are glorious. But the picture falls between arch cinematicism and literate theatricality, and, for all its chilly grace, it’s bereft of humanity.
This looks and sounds superb. Isabelle Huppert and Pascal Greggory are splendid. But the over-archingly smug sophistication of the enterprise robs it of some much-needed human interest.