Gabrielle (15)

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The Independent Culture

Everything in the belle époque life of Jean (Pascal Greggory) is immaculate, from his trimmed moustache to his tailored tweeds, and from the Paris townhouse where he hosts his popular society soirées to his wife of 10 years, Gabrielle (Isabelle Huppert, right). He married her because "she seemed so much the right sort", he says in his opening voice-over. "I love her as a collector loves his most prized item." Uh oh.

Sure enough, he comes home one day to a note on his wife's dressing table telling him that she's left him for another man. And no sooner has he read the Cher Jean letter than Gabrielle walks back through the door. She's made a mistake, she says, but the pristine shell of their hollow marriage has been cracked beyond repair.

Huppert is at her most blood-freezingly chilly in the title role, but Patrice Chéreau goes out of his way to make the film even colder. Based on "The Return", a Joseph Conrad short story, it's a series of long, meditative monologues, punctuated by some flashy directorial mucking about. Every so often, the film will flick from monochrome to colour and back, and captions will flash up on screen, as if Chéreau has been watching too much Quentin Tarantino.

The characters seem less like flesh and blood than like prized items in his collection.

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