This subtle, elegiac film - pursuing two 17th Century French Baroque composers as they aspire to artistic perfection - is propelled by yet another sublime performance from Gerard Depardieu, plus a highly promising debut from his prematurely laconic son Guillaume.
The Depardieus play virtuoso Marin Marais as a regret-riddled sage and puckish young fop who entreats the wild, reclusive master M. De Sainte Colombe (the consummate, dignified Marielle) to take him on as a pupil. The master's daughters are, inevitably, keen on this liaison which soon becomes dangerous for the willowy Madeleine (Brochet), who finds herself torn between her father's ideals and her love for the young Marais.
He, in return, forsakes his arrogance and shallowness and strives for Sainte Colombe's transcendent integrity. Pompous as this might sound, the tale is given wings by the superb cast's understanding of both grandiose passions and lighter follies. Intensity is the keynote (as the widower Colombe's devotion to his wife's ghost exemplifies), but while the music's austerity is unlikely to set the charts alight, the young lovers' flourishes are vibrant and flirtatious.
Inevitably it's Depardieu Snr. who faultlessly carries us in the palm of his hand through the deeper lakes of longing and ennui, with his tear-stained Rembrandt of a face succeeding in summarising the story to a fine nuance.
A slow and languorous film, but a quite exquisite treat nevertheless.