C

Lady Chatterley

At heart, D.H. Lawrence's much-banned classic early 20th-century novel Lady Chatterley's Lover is about the triumph of physicality over intellectualism—the naked animal body over the human mind. Lawrence underlined this idea with rapturously frank sex scenes between a British lady of rank and her husband's earthy, foul-mouthed gamekeeper. In the latest film adaptation of the book, French director Pascale Ferran underlines the same idea with endless scene-setting shots of nature: snow blowing through the air, a lizard climbing a wall, flowers in a field, drifting clouds, a placid lake surface, chickens wandering loose, the moon, buds emerging after winter, and on and on. Ferran does supply sex as well as sexual symbolism, but the two are equally placid and ruminative, and the Better Homes And Gardens visual approach makes for a mighty sleepy film.

The Barbarian Invasions' Marina Hands stars as the title character, a British aristocrat who begins to escape a buttoned-down life as nursemaid and companion to her impotent, war-wounded husband when she spies shirtless gamekeeper Jean-Louis Coullo'ch washing up, and begins to make excuses to hang around him. Initially passive and wonderstruck at his physical advances, she eventually commits wholeheartedly to both sex and love, much to her detriment in the final version of Lawrence's book, though here it mostly leads to some pining and a little weeping when she vacations without her lover.

Ferran's Lady Chatterley (which won 2006's top French film honors) actually adapts John Thomas And Lady Jane, the second of three published drafts of Lawrence's classic; in this version, the dialogue is minimalist, virtually all the supporting characters are reduced to vague pieces of scenery, Coullo'ch's gamekeeper is neither foul-mouthed nor given to using guttural patois to emphasize his low status and lack of education, and the dramatic confrontations are all but absent. In other words, it's a dreamy sexual idyll, in which Hands and Coullo'ch scamper naked through the rain and decorate each other with flowers, confined only by their own trepidations and obligations. Even their shocking class differences are an abstraction; with no tangible society in sight, it's hard to care what society might make of their affair. This might be pleasant to watch, in a floaty '70s-movie kind of way, if not for the film's groaning 168-minute length and abrupt thudder of an ending. Ferran respects her source text, and presents it in a pretty, gilded sunlit frame, but it's fairly baffling to see a story about animal desires presented with such a lack of animal immediacy.

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