French writer-director Olivier Assayas departs from his trademark edgy explorations of ultra-modern relationships with this exquisitely mounted adaptation of Jacques Chardonne's novel Les Destinees Sentimentales. Over the course of its three-hour running time, Assayas and co-writer Jacques Fieschi chart the vicissitudes of love and commerce during the first three decades of the 20th century, as an age of unquestioning wealth and luxury slowly draws to a close. Few things better symbolize this genteel age and the primacy of aesthetics over the often-grim reality of modern industrial life than the fine porcelain produced for generations by the Barnery family's factory in Limoges, France. But the company's future is uncertain: Family patriarch Robert Barnery is dying, and the only heir capable of running the business, Jean Barnery (Charles Berling), has moved to sunny Barbizac to serve as a minister to the region's small Protestant community. As Limoges is famous for its porcelain, Barbizac is known for its fine cognac. As in Limoges, life in Barbizac is circumscribed by cutthroat competition and gossip, and scandal has cast a shadow over Jean's life: His wife, Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert), is suspected wrongly, perhaps of having an affair. Unwilling to risk his reputation and encouraged by his stern uncle, cognac manufacturer Philippe Pommerel (Olivier Perrier), Jean sends the seething Nathalie and their young daughter, Aline (Josephine Firino-Martell), to the Bernery estate in Limoges. Meanwhile, Philippe's young niece, Pauline (Emmanuelle Béart), has come to Barbizac following her father's death. Described by a disapproving Phillipe as "a girl of today," Pauline is smart and independent and, despite her avowed distaste for religion, completely taken with Jean. The film opens at the turn of the 20th century and ends sometime during the Great Depression, a period of great change in both human and economic relations, and while it's Assayas's first period piece, the director's concerns with the values of art, love and work remain the same. Alternating cinematographer Eric Gautier's characteristically agitated camerawork with more stately, often breathtaking landscape photography (the second section of this three-part film takes place amid the crystal lakes and snowy peaks of Switzerland), Assayas takes the opportunity to bring a modern sensibility to what might have been little more than a exquisitely crafted museum piece. Béart and Berling are both superb, while Huppert imperious as a woman who turns her world into a moral prison to prove a point is magnificent.
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- Released: 2001
- Rating: NR
- Review: French writer-director Olivier Assayas departs from his trademark edgy explorations of ultra-modern relationships with this exquisitely mounted adaptation of Jacques Chardonne's novel Les Destinees Sentimentales. Over the course of its three-hour running t… (more)