In 1921, Constance Chatterley (Marina Hands) is a young wife not so much oppressed by convention as bored with her marriage and detached from her own feelings. Her husband, Sir Clifford (Hippollyte Girardot), crippled by a war wound, has moved them to his family's estate, Wragby, where there is not much for Constance to do. Until, that is, she meets Oliver Parkin (Jean-Louis Coulloc'h), Wragby's gamekeeper, with his muscular physique and sad boxer's face. They embark on an impossible affair, tentative and silent at first, but gradually more exploratory as they open each other's worlds through ardent love.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This French adaptation of the second of W. H. Lawrence's novels on the subject of Lady Constance Chatterley is a perfect example of the difference between the prose sentence and the filmic sentence (as Anthony Minghella once put it). While I haven't read Lawrence's book, I can easily imagine the sentences he wrote about the characters and their English country setting, the occasional aside about socialism (perfunctorily dealt with as a symbol of Connie's awakening, opposed to her husband's hidebound capitalist attitudes) and the picturesque, bucolic setting of the story. Indeed, the filmmaker seems in danger of drifting off with the pixies in the splendid grass as she shoves images of fields, flowers, birds and squirrels, bubbling brooks and furry forests at us.
These over-extended shots add to the feeling that the film is not just slow but plodding and dull. The story seems to have no beginning, the characters no motivation and the film no dramatic tension for the first long half. But I gather it was originally a 6-hour mini series. That would explain the often abrupt editing and seemingly clumsy direction.
It may also explain why intertitles are needed to link scenes: 'Constance doesn't go to the hut for a few days'. And the sudden arrival of a female narrator half way through the film, just after Connie and gamekeeper Oliver have their first sexual encounter on a rug on the floor of his working hut. There are expansive views of a summer field, a soaring falcon, a squirrel running up a tree, Connie looking at birds nests ...
But all the while Connie is somehow absent for much of the film, as is Oliver. This is intended, I know, to show how they come alive after they become lovers. The poor actors have embarked on a brave but meaningless task here.
In the early 1900s this affair would have been a shocking, scandalous story, especially in England's class driven society. It was a radical work, in which the socialist remarks are fuel to that fire. Today, it seems rather tame, even with the penis shots, the sex and the running naked in the rain. The lengthy ending, full of words to explain Oliver's inner turmoil, is another example of how prose is not always good cinema.
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LADY CHATTERLEY (M)
CAST: Marina Hands, Jean-Louis Coulloc'h, Hippolyte Giradot, Hélène Alexandridis, Hélène Filières, Bernard Verley, Sava Lolov
PRODUCER: Gilles Sandoz
DIRECTOR: Pascale Ferran
SCRIPT: Pascale Ferran, Roger Bohbot (novel by D.H. Lawrence)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Julien Hirsch
EDITOR: Yann Dedet, Mathilde Muyard
MUSIC: Béatrice Thiriet
PRODUCTION DESIGN: François-Renaud Labarthe
RUNNING TIME: 168 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 6, 2007