Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.
United Kingdom/France, 1981. Merchant Ivory Productions, Lyric International, National Film Trustee Company. Screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, French dialogue by Michel Maingois, based on the novel by Jean Rhys. Cinematography by Pierre Lhomme. Produced by Jean-Pierre Mahot, Ismail Merchant. Music by Richard Robbins. Production Design by Jean-Jacques Caziot. Costume Design by Judy Moorcroft. Film Editing by Humphrey Dixon. Cannes Film Festival 1981.
As in all Merchant Ivory films, the physical qualities of this production are top notch: the sets and costumes are gorgeous, the music beautifully scored, and the quality of the period (in this case, jazz-age Paris) recreated with authentic perfection. Unfortunately, the story is not up to snuff and the overall effect of watching it play out is boring. Isabelle Adjani plays the young, beautiful wife of an antiques dealer who is left to fend for herself when he is sent to prison for a matter of months. He begs her to take up a generous couple’s offer to stay with them, and she does, befriending the insecure wife (Maggie Smith) and becoming the object of lust for the weak-willed husband (Alan Bates). The personal power play between these four characters makes up the meat of the film, but eventually Smith’s character’s desperation becomes tiresome and Adjani’s breathy innocence seems false. You won’t give a damn what happens to them, nor will you be glad you stayed long enough to find out what does.