A personal recount prompted by "Gabrielle": interior vs. reality

Even though I have mostly been writing about visual art, not so much about films; because I intended to keep a narrower range of coverage as to not confuse my readers by crossing too many disciplines.  For the moment, while in-between my "Ai Wei Wei reporting", I have decided to let pure sentiment and irrational passions take the "page" (as supposed to "stage").  But for some of you that know me personally, no matter how contained, there has always been a constant struggle to keep down my irrational sentiments toward life and not explode into a monster of violent emotions.  While, It is one thing to feel strong passions for life, but I would say it is quite another to let it take over and undermine the necessary sanity required to participate and meet the daily demands.

Film has always been an emotional refuge and I even past a review-board during my final art-school year with a film project.  Years and years ago, I learned that while watching a film in the dark, it gave a sense of safety in the way that it allowed you to let go and fall into shambles, but this pandemonium could go unnoticed and forgivably so.  And the experience in the dark alone did not transpire feelings of loneliness because the people on the screen seemed to echo exactly what felt to be going on within my interior.

In general, the reasons that prompt me to prefer one film over the other is either that I empathize with one of the characters or agreed or disagreed with a certain take or portrayal of a moral issue.  Just for today (and on this rainy and misty day), I will veer aside from the veneer of being too serious or critical to admit that I also like a good number of films just for the way it looks in spite that any of the "excellent or worthier qualities" seem to elude at its core. 

Gabrielle, 2005
Directed by Patrice Chéreau
Based on a Joseph Conrad's short story The Return

To be clear, Gabrielle does not fall into the later category for me.  It is one that I loved both for its mise-en-scene as well its characters.  As for the characters, I find myself identifying with both characters, the betrayed one and the one who betrayed.  While it is perfectly normal to feel the inclination of identifying with both characters each from different sides of the conflict, however in the case of Gabrielle, some thing changed from the beginning until the finishing of the film.

Gabrielle starts with a black-white sequence, Jean Hervey the husband of Gabrielle (played by Pascal Greggory) recounting to himself about how wonderful his life has been with achieved accomplishment in society and accrued wealth provided by his intelligence in dealing with life and people.  This voice-over scene then leads to a colored sequential shots of a dinner party, during which Jean admires his wife from the other end of the table while watching her charismatically entertains all their guests.  The film switches from black-white throughout the telling of the story.  The black-white depicts Jean's interior monologue and deep emotions that do not manifest among the public or his acquaintances and friends.  This is to change as the story unfolds.

Gabrielle Hervey played by Isabelle Huppert appears as a socially brilliant woman, who is able to maintain the life of any conversation by sheer wit and cunning observations and remarks.  Isabelle Huppert is one of my favorite actresses (I don't have many, with the exception of just two others, Isabelle Ajani for her ravishing beauty and the ability to play crazy women yet loveable.  Also Fanny Ardent, for her poised yet delicate beauty and beautiful speech.  While I am at this just to name one more, Romy Schneider for her ravishing beauty, her coquettish screen appearance and a tragic personal life that almost seem in contrast accounting her onscreen abilities.)  Of the other films I have seen, in this one Isabelle Huppert's character did not seem to require as much depth or development in comparison.  It is for her ability to present complex characters with conflicted desires in life that gained my admiration for her as an actress. This is not to say that this character is not as good or less worthy of note, it is to say that for this film and the story only required this kind of treatment, one that does not require her to transform throughout the film.  For her character remains the same, but at the same time is revealed through two different stance.  In the beginning, her husband Jean takes the precedence of describing his loving wife Gabrielle to us, she almost seems voiceless as something to be gazed and imagined.

Gabrielle, 2005
Directed by Patrice Chéreau
Based on a Joseph Conrad's short story The Return

Gabrielle gains her voice after Jean discovers her letter confessing to him that she is in love with someone else- and that afternoon she is to see her lover and to never return.  From the letter, Jean realizes that Gabrielle has been in love with this other man for a long time and ceased loving him a long time ago.  In a frenzy rage, Jean breaks his glass and watches the blood flowing as he tries to come to terms with her confession.  At this point, the outwardly successful and composed man changes into an inconsolable and shattered man.  As the camera pans through the gracious and stately interior of his house, the only thing intact and seemingly firmly-standing is the beautiful marble sculptures and the sumptuous interiors.

Based on Joseph Conrad's story The Return, director Patrice Chéreau integrates text titles into the film.  It struck me as something in between the use of intertitles (or title cards) in silent movies and something of the "new wave" era as Goddard interjects with a certain word or text to emphasize an emotional climax of a certain situation during a certain scene.  In the case of Gabrielle it serves two main functions, one is to visually convey a state of emotion of which the actual use of speech would fall short; the other is to present a narrative outside of Jean Hervey's emotional interior and thus make present the voice of the story-teller (perhaps Conrad's or the director as his interpreter.)

The emotional pinnacle reaches when Jean suddenly realizes that the woman he has been in love with in reality exists only as a figment of his own imagination.  As Gabrielle recounts her first encountering of this other man and the passionate affairs between her and her lover, Gabrielle does not appear remorseful.  The only remorse is that she returned to Jean despite having made up her mind to leave him earlier that afternoon.  This film presents two people seemingly happy together but both have very different ideas of happiness and very different ways of pursuing and attempting to securing that happiness.  The most difficult reality for me was that both Jean and Gabrielle had the desire for happiness yet that happiness was unattainable between the two of them.  Desperately distraught by this realization Jean stumbles out of his house like a lost man, while the intertitle presents these words: "Il ne revint jamais."*

It feels as if I could go on taking apart all the shots, scenes and the moments in between just to let you know how much I enjoyed this film.  As it came even as a surprise to me, since I picked out the DVD only on a whim while browsing the Fiaf library on Thursday night before going to my French class.  However, what prompted me to write this post after watching Gabrielle was that I saw an outlet for recounting a personal story of mine.  No matter how painful the reality, I have learned to accept it.  The reality that someone I had once been in love and with all my heart and love never existed.  The excruciating pain of betrayal and yet the reasons behind the other person's choice and misbehavior may never be known to me completely.**  

* "He never returned."

** Later when I watched the interview segments with Director Patrice Chéreau in which he quoted Roland Barthes saying that: " A little formality distances you from the truth.  A lot of formality brings you back to it."  To my dismay, too much formality brought me right back to reliving the ordeal of which I so much wanted to forget


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