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‘La Lectrice’ (R)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 19, 1989

Excruciatingly literate, overdesigned and dramatically inert, Michel Deville's "La Lectrice" is an elaborate intellectual tease. Based on the novel by Raymond Jean, the film tells the story of a perky young woman named Constance, played by Miou-Miou, who one night crawls into bed with her lover and begins reading from "La Lectrice," by Raymond Jean, a book about a perky young woman named Marie, also played by Miou-Miou, who works as a professional reader.

Perplexing, eh?

The movie, which was written by Deville and his wife Rosalinde, is all done with gilded mirrors. Little more than a succession of chic tableaux, it's staged to titillate under the false pretenses of art. Dressed in demurely sexy little-girl outfits, Miou-Miou traipses around the film like a demented cheerleader.

While reading provocative bits of Maupassant and Poe to a teen-age boy in a wheelchair, she coyly reveals a bit of leg. Another customer, a nostalgic, rich old widow played by Maria Casare`s, is fond of Marx but grows weary of the reading almost as soon as it's begun. In her employ is a pretty young maid plagued by an infestation of spiders, which are biting their way up her legs. For protection, Marie suggests that she wear very tight-fitting panties.

During the course of the picture, Marie reads from Tolstoy, de Sade and Lewis Carroll, among others, without seeming to comprehend much of any of them. She looks as if no thought had ever squeezed its way into her head. If Marie were a mere inexperienced teen and not, as she must be with Miou-Miou in the role, a mature, adult woman, the film might make more sense. The actress' presence alone distorts the material.

The picture flits back and forth between the world of the book and the real world, from Marie to Constance, but the literary puzzle games are more tiresome than clever. Basically it's infuriating, especially when time and time again, characters remark on what a delightful, mellifluous voice our heroine has, when in truth it is overwhelmingly average, even bland and skinny. It hardly opens the doors to magical realms.

"La Lectrice" is rated R and contains some nudity and adult talk.

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