Die marquise von O (Eric Rohmer, 1976) ****1/2 (Excellent)

Une vieille maitresse (Catherine Breillat, 2007) *** (Good)

This opposition between those two costume dramas is a circumstance only justifiable by the screening of those two in the same period of time for me. As you will read with this review, I deeply appreciated one more than the other. In both case, we are far from masterpieces of the genre like Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon or Luchino Visconti's Il gattopardo.

Une vieille maitresse
is the most recent of the two films and is from a well known director mostly recognize for her films depicting non-simulated explicit sex scenes. Well, besides the sex and provocation, Catherine Breillat has made interesting films as well. Her film discussed here has its scenes of sex that are set in the sequence of events of the film.They make this costume drama unlike any other made before.

The so-called sex scenes in Breillat's film gets us close to the characters that most often than not are far from us with the time and the sentiments. But the scenes of a costume drama without the costumes is a drama and sex is sex. Still, the motivations of the characters are passionate and we have to immerge ourselves into the time period to understand why the husband must marry a wealthier woman and deny his love for his mistress. This is a smptuous film that cannot bear to the ankle of Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette for example, even if Breillat film is more explicit on the delured side. Coppola's take on costume drama is sugar-sweet and progressive.

On the other side, Rohmer's Marquise of O is a somptuous film based on redemption, secrets, and true love. It feels more like a costume drama almost entirely shot in studios and brilliantly acted especially by the marvellous Bruno Ganz. The story feels like it was written and shot at the time the story is set. We have a feeling of being in this era and to fully understand the motivations of the characters. The photography is natural and realistic almost only natural light and terra cota colors. Some purist of Rohmer's work could say that this is his most unRohmerian film but I would say that it's one of his most interesting: many different techniques and and one of his few films tobe set in another time than the present. I like when directors impose to themselves obstacles and challenges. Like Hitchcock did with Lifeboat or Rope for example. Here, Rohmer even shot in German.

As for costume dramas or historical films, I'm kind of a little bored by the whole process and I think directors like Sofia Coppola and Catherine Breillat were great choices to try to bring something completely different to the screens. Well, as it succeded in Coppola's case I think that Breillat's effort needed more punch or a better plot to keep us awake between the soft-core sequences of Asia Argento's belle-laide body. As for Rohmer, the winner of this confrontation, we see a master holding the wheel with a sure hand and a brilliant cast. On every level, Marquise d'O offers what I call a film that represents what filmmaking should be; a strong story, well shoot, with sincere emotions that gives a grand spectacle.

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