New York Magazine


Lady Chatterley
  Release Date: 06/22/07

Starring: Marina Hands, Jean-Louis Coullo'ch, Hippolyte Girardot, Helene Alexandridis, Helene Fillieres

Director: Pascale Ferran

Rating: (NR)
  Running Time
  168 min
  Kino International Corp.
Official Website
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Having written in college what I consider the definitive paper on D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover (the teaching assistant who graded it did not appreciate its modernist lack of conventional structure, misguidedly concluding it was a stream-of-consciousness first draft spewed out under deadline pressure), I fairly swaggered into Pascale Ferran's French-language Lady Chatterley, only to discover it was based on the second, rather than third (best known, most banned) version of the novel. It was unfamiliar—the outline similar but the atmosphere much Frenchier. In Ferran's film, Lady Constance Chatterley (Marina Hands) does not have the awkward blessing of her husband, Sir Clifford (Hippolyte Girardot), paralyzed in World War I, to conceive an heir with another man before she embarks on her hungry affair with the gamekeeper, here called Oliver Parkin (Jean-Louis Coulloc'h). And once she does, there's none of that English self-recrimination that bubbles up even in Lawrence. There are psychological bumps on the road, bien sr, but you come away with a vision of two naked people frolicking in the forest in a downpour, ecstatically at one with the natural world—which is significantly more temperate than its British equivalent.

The film is supposedly set in England, but when you hear the characters talk about going to Sheffield, they might as well be saying "Planet Naboo"—this is France. Ferran replaces Lawrence's acid musings about the sexes (especially the clueless men) with occasional intertitles and an unemotional female narrator—very strange. She also stretches the story out to 168 minutes, many of them languorous. I found the first half-hour a snooze, but once I adjusted to the movie's rhythms, I was completely enraptured. Ferran weaves the love affair into nature, but not in the mystical, sanctified manner of Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain. The look is rough-hewn, the feeling casual yet supremely alert. The director's glance takes in streams, clouds, swaying leaves; the soundtrack picks up wind, birds, and woodpeckers, the creak of the floorboards as Parkin approaches Constance Chatterly for the first time.

The look is perfectly in tune with Marina Hands, who fits Lawrence's description of a country girl—very pretty but with curves and freckles, without the refinement (or the cultivated arrogance) of her husband. Once or twice I caught Hands overdoing the ingenuous wonderment thing, but her Constance has nothing of an actress's guile, and she almost literally blooms before our eyes. Coulloc'h is not what you'd anticipate. His hair is thinning, his face broad (in the Rip Torn mode, but without the randiness), his body soft. What makes him attractive is the fear in his eyes. You see him the way Constance does, encased within himself; you understand why she wants to bring him out. Each sex scene is different—the lovemaking changes as the lovers learn to communicate. Nothing in Lady Chatterley feels salacious. When Constance looks at Parkin's shriveled penis after sex and remarks how small it has become, you're not even embarrassed for the character (or the actor). It's up, it's down, it's big, it's small. It's au naturel. —Reviewed by David Edelstein, New York Magazine