Paris, the beginning of the century…
After a lush but uneventful party Jean (Pascal Greggory) discovers a small letter placed on the top of his desk. In it his beautiful and utterly sophisticated wife Gabrielle (Isabelle Huppert) has confessed that her heart now belongs to a different man. Overtaken by uncontrollable emotions Jean collapses - his heart racing, his hands visibly shaking. Later on he saunters to Gabrielle's room only to find out what the letter has already revealed. She is gone!
But a few hours later Gabrielle is back. She walks in the room where Jean has been trying to recollect his thoughts and slowly looks at him. Her big eyes are begging for forgiveness. The lover she has left behind is not the man Gabrielle wants to spend the rest of her days with. Jean is surprised, hurt, and quickly taken over by anger.
Directed by Patrice Chereau (Queen Margot) Gabrielle is a film that seems to have created an enormous amount of mixed feelings between those who follow French cinema and the work of Isabelle Huppert in particular. The unconventional manner in which the story is being told (the actors' lines resemble old-fashioned French poetry) and the fact that the film resembles a theater play with its short introductions before each of the main acts indeed suggest that Patrice Chereau was looking for something special. The complex characters he created in Those Who Love Me Can Take The Train (1998) and the sense of loss we witnessed in Son Frere (2003) are most certainly detectable in Gabrielle. Yet, the film is far more advanced than everything else Patrice Chereau has been previously involved with.
Based on Joseph Conrad's novel The Return (credit goes to Anne-Louise Trividic as well) Gabrielle offers brilliant performances by the two leads: Isabelle Huppert and Pascal Greggory. Stricken by Gabrielle's infidelity Jean transforms into a man determined to hurt the woman he once loved, only doing so with the tact a true gentleman is expected to possess. Pascal Greggory is irresistible as Jean and his verbal abuse aimed at Gabrielle, a never-ending tirade of bitter words, utterly impressive.
Isabelle Huppert, playing the faulty wife Gabrielle, is once again at the top of her game. Her acting, so powerful I wish Bergman would have filmed her at least once, is nothing short of spectacular. Her facial expressions particularly during the second act of the film are as moving as the ones she conveyed while playing Erika Kohut (The Piano Teacher).
I am also equally impressed by the enormous emphasis on detail Patrice Chereau has demanded for Gabrielle. The fabulous cinematography by Eric Gautier who also helmed Olivier Assayas' Clean (2004) and Arnaud Desplechin's Rois et Reine a.k.a Kings and Queen (2004), and the superb costumes are no doubt fantastic. Last but not least the decision to film portions of Gabrielle entirely in black and white and then counter them with colored "reality"-fragments works to perfection.
In 2005 the film won Cesar Awards for Best Costume Design (Caroline de Vivaise) and Best Production Design (Olivier Radot). During the same year the film was also nominated for Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.
How Does the DVD Look?
I have a fairly good idea what has happened here! Seville-Canada have ported the excellent French double disc produced by Arte!! And that is where pretty much all of the good news end! The bad news is that the Seville producers have cropped the film from its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 to 1.78:1 (a maddening new trend meant to appeal to the new and digitally "sophisticated" crowd of 16:9 TV owners). Needless to say to me this equates the same old PAN-SCAN philosophy Blockbuster and Co. were supporting during the VHS era.
To Seville-Canada and their producers: the DVD medium is clearly not meant to support such travesty!
Furthermore, this Canadian disc also appears to be a PAL-port and even though "ghosting" is not as intrusive as we have witnessed on other discs it is there. "Combing" is also visible and those of you with progressive set-ups are in for some nasty surprises. Aside from that the Canadian print does retain all of the strong qualities seen in the French print (which we already reviewed here): good contrast, no print damage, steady colors, etc. Yet, what good is it that the film is now available to Canadian and US film fans when it has been hacked and ported in such disturbing manner.
How Does the DVD Sound?
I don't see too many issues of concern here. The DVD comes with two audio options: a French 2.0 and 5.1 DD mixes. Needless to say the DTS track from the Arte double set is not present on this Canadian disc. I did not notice any distracting pop-ups or hissing but yet again this is an area where the Canadian disc lacks as well. There are no French subtitles on this disc only optional English (white) subtitles.
This single Canadian disc retains only a few of the massive extras found on the double Arte set. None of the extras are subtitled in English. What we have here is the commentary by Patrice Chereau and Anne Louise Trividic, and a collage of short interviews/comments with Patrice Chereau, Pascal Greggory, and Isabelle Huppert.
This Seville-Canada produced R1 release of Patrice Chereau's Gabrielle is nothing more than a quick and cheap attempt to make a few extra (Canadian) dollars. I am puzzled as to why Seville have decided to crop the film from 2.35:1 to 1.78:1. Perhaps they felt the need to edit Chereau's vision. Could that be it? If anyone has a logical explanation please feel free to contact me! This being said I would clearly recommend (to both Canadians and Americans) that you either wait for the American release courtesy of IFC films or if you happen to be region-free then get the spectacular French double set by Arte reviewed on this site. I like Seville Pictures and their selection of films, the company has a very diverse catalog of world cinema, but clearly I can not endorse such a poor release. For the bravest of all: RENT IT.