"I love her as a collector loves his most prized item," Jean Hervey says of his titular wife in French filmmaker Patrice Chereau'sGabrielle, and he considers it high praise indeed. But that's not love. That's...something else. Pride, maybe? Control? Jean isn't the first person to confuse these sentiments, and his comfortably structured existence will come undone when he realizes that possessions can't love you back.
Based on a Joseph Conrad novella called "The Return," Gabrielle takes place in early 20th century Paris and drops in on Jean (frequent Chéreau collaborator Pascal Greggory) and Gabrielle (Isabelle Huppert, I Heart Huckabees) during one of the lavish gatherings they host every Thursday in their impeccably appointed home. To their artsy acquaintances the wealthy Herveys seem the picture of contentment. Jean will soon receive a farewell letter from his wife telling him otherwise, and Chéreau shoots the concerned man approaching the missive as if he can influence its foregone contents. Jean is distraught, angry, and shocked, feelings that are ramped up when Gabrielle unexpectedly returns.
"That other life is too demanding," Gabrielle says, and she's definitely referring to amour. She's surprised by Jean's reaction; she wouldn't have returned if she thought he cared. But that's still not evidence of Jean's love. That's pure ego. He could have endured nobly if she had left, but now the gossips will learn that he took her back, and he'll appear weak. Throughout the balance of the film Gabrielle and Jean will move through their sumptuously sterile surroundings, him raging at her as she remains distant, only expressing herself during heartbreaking conversation with her maid. But Jean told us at the outset how proud he was of Gabrielle's impassivity.
Nothing more can be said about La Huppert and her masterful acting; she's one of the finest actresses in the world, and while Gabrielle may not be the showiest of roles, she conveys much with just a twitch of the mouth or a glacial gaze. As Jean, a man to whom emotions are supposedly contemptible, Greggory runs the gamut of them, Jean's stiff upper lip ultimately failing him during their final salon.
Aficionados of world cinema are familiar with the work of Chéreau. He's made films such as 1994's Queen Margot and 1998's Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train and appeared in movies like Michael Mann's Last of the Mohicans (one of my all-time favorites). For a quiet chamber piece --- it would make a fine play --- Gabrielle is startlingly stylish. Shifts from black-and-white to color that seem to correspond to the presence or absence of passion, swirling camerawork, and words occasionally filling the screen ("STAY!") make for a satisfying cinematic experience, even in one of those films where the characters are so repressed that at times it seems as though you're suffering for them.
In Alex Karpovsky's clever mockumentaryThe Hole Story, Karpovsky travels to Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes, to find out why one of them has a giant hole in the ice despite sub-freezing temperatures. He's putting together a pilot called "Provincial Puzzlers" about small-town phenomena, but when he shows up in Brainerd, MN, the hole has completely frozen over. This should deter Karpovsky, but he's hell-bent on ditching his dead-end job editing karaoke videos. The Hole Story chronicles the stubborn Karpovsky's efforts to complete the project without his star chasm, attempting to harness the power of illusion, the sun, and in one great scene, the sledgehammer.
The locals don't know what to make of the filmmaker --- there's a lot of uncomfortable silences and blinking --- and Karpovsky perseveres with the smoky, numbing help of his pal Jack Daniels, resulting in some drunkenly droll midnight confessions. The Hole Story strains credibility once Karpovsky winds up in a mental hospital with the camera continuing to roll, but as Karpovsky's resourcefulness grows increasingly desperate, it also gets funnier. Karpovsky will be at the Dryden on Saturday, August 26, to present his film. Ask him if he still has all his fingers and toes after that icy hop into NorthLongLake.
And don't forget about thenext installment of the Emerging Filmmakers Series, unspooling at 9:15 p.m. on Monday, August 28, at the Little. Since the fall of 2003 the monthly series has showcased short films shot in New YorkState by filmmakers who reside here. Six shorts will be featured this month, four of them by Rochester artists. Visit the Little's website at www.little-theatre.com to learn more about the Emerging Filmmakers Series, including instructions for submitting your own tiny opus.
Gabrielle (NR), directed by Patrice Chéreau, opens Friday, August 25, at Little Theatres | The Hole Story (R), directed by visiting guest artist Alex Karpovsky, shows at 8 p.m. on Saturday, August 26, at the George Eastman House's Dryden Theatre.