The Gripping Agony of Vows Broken
"Gabrielle," set among the upper bourgeoisie of early 20th-century Paris, details the swift and lasting damage one revelation inflicts on a marriage.
Jean Hervey (Pascal Greggory), a gentleman of means, measures the success of his life by the affluent and literate friends who gather for his weekly dinner parties, and by his sophisticated wife, Gabrielle (Isabelle Huppert), who co-hosts his Thursday soirees. He is totally unprepared for the letter from Gabrielle he finds in his study one afternoon -- the one informing him she has left him for another man. No sooner has he read this missive than Gabrielle returns. She has had a change of heart.
Writer-director Patrice Chéreau, who adapted Joseph Conrad's short story "The Return," examines the torturous aftermath, as Jean and Gabrielle probe each other's deepest resentments, truths and desires for the first time. There's a muted agony to the movie as their continuing battle plays out in a sumptuous household full of hushed, astonished guests and domestics.
Chéreau, whose eclectic run of films includes "Queen Margot," "Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train" and the sexually explicit "Intimacy," underscores some key emotional moments by switching from color to black-and-white. And he pays such exacting attention to the delicately lighted drawing rooms, the women's scintillating finery and the labyrinthine design of this home, you feel as if you're sitting with the embarrassed company. But for the most part, he lets Huppert and Greggory provide the emotional impact. They respond accordingly, imbuing their mutual suffering with an exacting and moving finesse.
-- Desson Thomson
Gabrielle Unrated, 90 minutes Contains sexual situations, nudity, profanity and violence. In French with subtitles. At the Avalon.