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La Belle Personne
Christophe Honoré confirms and signs, with his last movie "La Belle Personne" his detractors are going to roar, again, whereas other are going to applause, again.
In reality he continues to use the ingredients of "Les Chansons d'Amour": First of all some of his regular actors are playing in it such as Louis Garrel who turns out to be his leading figure and Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet. It is still an intellectual and literary movie with a strong "rive gauche" touch largely inspired by the French New Wave.
Some people hate and denounce it as a falsy intellectual, pedantic and petty bourgeois work however, as far as France In London is concerned, we were moved.
"La Belle Personne" is a modern and very free version of "La Princesse de Clèves" the famous classic novel written by Mme de La Fayette in 1678. In the original version, Mademoiselle de Chartres is a sheltered heiress whose mother has brought to the court of Henri II to seek a good husband. After a marriage of convenience with the very respectful Prince de Clèves, she meets the dashing duc de Nemours and they both fall in love. Since she is very moral and since she can't believe in true love and happiness she does not act on this love and isolates heself in order to stifle her illegitimate love. However, Nemour's behaviour and persistence prevents her from succeeding in doing so. In love with her too, he plays with her feelings and above all with her jealousy in the famous passage of the letter. Eventually she cannot fight alone and confesses the truth to her husband. Their relations become difficult and he eventuall dies of despair, convinced that his lover has betrayed and humiliated him. Despite her love for Nemours, Mme de Clèves decides to punish herself by refusing a happiness she can't believe in. She excludes herself from society becoming one of the most famous and beautiful character of renunciation in worldwide literature.
Christophe Honoré's version is not a safe bet at all: there is always a great risk involved when one choses to adapt one of the biggest masterpieces of French literature, especially when this involves transposing a Frencg 16th century court to a modern Parisian high school. The historic aspect which is central to the novel is of course lost but Christophe Honoré's aim is elsewhere.
According to him, this movie has a political background: last year the President Nicolas Sarkozy questionned the usefulness of studying such old literary works in such a systematic way at school. Christophe Honoré wanted to show that such masterpieces are saying a truth about ourselves which will never go out of fashion. And that's what he did: even if his version is free, he transposed all the dilemmas, the feeling of confusion, the fear of love and the resignation of "La Princesse de Clèves" nowadays.
The Princesse de Clèves is now a 16 year old girl called Juni. She is a mysterious student who arrives into a new school after the death of her mother. Introduced by her cousin she will be rapidly wooed by many of his friends. Eventually she picks Otto, the calmest of the clan and the most sincere too. His love for Juni seems to be pure and deep. He genuinely wants to take care of her. However she can't help falling in love with Mr Nemours, her italian teacher- a total charmer with a serious penchant for his students. Juni's mysterious nature also drives him crazy. The trio of Mme de la Fayette is recomposed, the plot is set and kept intact.
Mythical passages such as the confession, the letter and the robbery of the picture still look authentic if you can believe in such a pure love between the two teenagers. And there is a strong bias: Christophe Honoré reverses the amourous intrigue. Let's explain. In "La Princesse de Clèves", the Prince de Clèves is older than the Duc de Nemours and his love is regarded as deep and sincere whereas Duc de Nemour's love appeares more frivolous. On the contrary Honoré depicts a true love as an adolescent thing as if grown ups are corrupting it.
There are many references to their purity and fragility which is quite rare nowadays. True that from a general point of view teenagers are corrupt and youth appears to often be morally decadent but in "La Belle Personne" they are grave and graceful, deep and true at the same time. Christophe Honoré confesses that he admires the current youth as more beautiful, intelligent and passionate than ever. His characters are sharing true loves, passions, they know true despairs, deep wrenchs, they have convictions and assurances especially intellectually.
For sure this portrait doesn't fit with the reality and remains only of dream and fantasy but there are still some modern characterisitcs and, most of all, it is beautiful. Moreover, finding and showing beauty in the current youth without being nostalgic or conservative is quite enjoyable and very rare.
The characters are evolving in a Parisian school of the XVIth arrondissement where appearances seem to be as important as in the Court. Shot on location in the Lycee Molière, the set is absolutely perfect since this school gets a lot of balconies and open arcades: all of the characters have to show, they can spy one each other, they can try to hide from each other... The transposition is perfect to draw portraits of all of them. And what a galery of beautiful portaits despite some supporting roles not quite as good as others.
Some people may, by now, be sick of Louis Garrel's obscure looks, Lea Seydoux's aerial poses and Christophe Honoré's slow-moving shots but no one can deny their perfomance. Louis Garrel is as magic as ever. Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet confirms his skill as an actor as he explores a very different character in comparison to Erwan in "Les Chansons d'Amour". The new face of Léa Seydoux is delightful and refreshing: the cast is superb and is wonderfully emphasised by Christophe Honoré who takes time to film their faces and looks. Dialogues are subtle, proclaimed as in a theatre play which perfectly fits with the theme of the Court.
A must-see which can not leave you indifferent. Isn't this what great movies are supposed to do? Ready yourself for passionate film discussions...
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