The best thing about this film adaptation of Jean Rhys’s novel lies in its unfussy recreation of 1920s Paris, kept in check, no doubt, by a tight budget. If only the characters & story were equally convincing. But this time, those book-loving musketeers of art-house cinema, helmer James Ivory, scripter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala & producer Ismail Merchant, are defeated by a recalcitrant literary source. Isabelle Adjani stars as a forlorn young wife, left on her own with zero prospects after her dashing Polish husband is thrown in jail for art theft. Enter Maggie Smith & Alan Bates, rich married masochists locked in a co-dependent marriage of ill convenience; she encourages his roving eye to keep him happy, and then hates herself in the morning; he needs her support at picking up the pieces when its time to move on. Even when you don’t ‘buy’ the situations, the acting is mostly superb, especially from Maggie Smith & Anthony Higgins who plays the jailed husband with a note of wronged nobility.* And if James Ivory’s directorial mise-en-scène remains page-bound, the cultural & social mise-en-scène keeps you watching.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Adjani is the weak link in her ill-fitting lamb-to-the-slaughter role, so naturally she won the Cannes Fest acting award. BTW, you’ll recognize Higgins from his villainous role in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK/’81.