Gabrielle Patrice Chéreau

This Joseph Conrad adaptation is a rare specimen of the costume drama, one that emphasises drama over costumes. Pascal Greggory plays a self-impressed bourgeois who smugly presides over regular parties at his posh home. He openly regards his wife as a collector’s prized possession and sees no reason to change his objectifying ways. Then, one day, he comes home to find a note from his wife (Isabelle Huppert); it seems like she’s just left the jerk for another man, only she loses courage and returns, leaving the pair of them with a few things to work out. Totally uninterested in magic frocks and stiff upper lips, director Patrice Chereau beats the stuffing out of genre expectations by destroying the culture they’re designed to uphold. The protagonists’ parties are populated by joyless prigs and the most bilious theatre critic it’ll be your misfortune to know. Meanwhile, the servants skitter about fearfully instead of being the fantasy appendages of people looking to luxuriate in the trappings of class. And Chereau constantly fractures the action with jump cuts, shifts from B&W into colour and printed titles, interrupting our enjoyment of surfaces and making us feel the ennui and disappointment of the leads. It’s an astoundingly sustained effort — there isn’t a failed line or a faltering camera move in the whole thing — and its nuanced deconstruction of both the central relationship and the kind of movie we’re programmed to expect makes it worthy of multiple viewings. Extras include a commentary with Chereau and co-writer Anne Louise Trividic and a video interview with Chereau, Huppert and Greggory but unfortunately for us Anglo viewers, the extras remain unsubtitled. (Seville)