Thursday, July 20, 2017

Luc Bondy Reinvents Marivaux: False Confessions

Pierre de Marivaux’s plays are still frequently revived in France, but they have never been widely read in English translation. At least he was popular within his lifetime. Frankly, he needed his royalties, having lost his shirt in the Mississippi land bubble. As a result, he should have identified with the well-bred but financially destitute hero of one of his best-known plays. Dorante is now just a plebeian secretary, but he will still sneakily woo his wealthy widowed mistress in the late Luc Bondy’s modern-day adaptation of False Confessions (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in Los Angeles.

It is all crafty Dubois’s fault. Dorante’s former valet now works in the household of the somewhat older but still alluring Araminte. Knowing his master was smitten after merely spying the wealthy widow at the opera, the servant hatches a scheme to bring them together. Through the influence of his uncle, Dorante lands a job as Araminte’s secretary, beating out the candidate put forward by the Comte Dorimont, an unwelcome suitor Araminte will either marry or sue in court to resolve a long-standing land dispute.

Dorante immediately wins her confidence by spurning her Dowager Countess-like mother’s request to help convince Araminte to see things her way. Since that would have included marrying the Comte, Dorante is definitely not on-board. As she starts to appreciate his charms, Dubois stokes her servant Marton’s romantic interest in Dorante, stimulating Araminte’s jealousy, which in turn clouds her rigid class-based sensibilities and judgement.

Bondy’s False Confessions is an unfortunate case of one or two high-profile critics causing a domino effect among other critics and bloggers who are incapable or unwilling to think for themselves. It has a bizarrely low RT score, but it is really quite spritely and sophisticated. Somewhat controversially, Bondy opted to keep Marivaux’s original language (more or less), but frankly, as experienced in English subtitles, it only sounds elevated rather than forbidding or distancing. Sadly, he also passed away during the final days of shooting, but it is never obvious at what point his freshly widowed wife took over the helm.

It almost goes without saying, but Isabelle Huppert really is terrific portraying Araminte. We don’t often think of her in comedic contexts, but her timing and delivery are impeccable. Bulle Ogier is also quite a stitch unleashing her inner Dame Maggie Smith as Araminte’s tart-tongued mother. In contrast, Louis Garrel underwhelms, largely playing Dorante on sullen auto-pilot. However, Manon Combes really seems earnest and genuine as the out-classed Marton.

Cinematographer Luciano Tovoli (best-known for Suspiria and Tenebre) gives it a warmly welcoming, bright and airy look. Bondy opted to shoot the film version during the day at the very Odeon Theater where the cast was simultaneously performing his more traditional staging at night. That concentrated focus somehow produced a consistently witty and charming film, like a lighter, more laidback version of Alain Resnais’s You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet. Highly recommended, False Confessions opens tomorrow (7/21) in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Playhouse 7 and moves to the Village East here in New York.