#Henry … Thibault de Montalembert
Anna … Florence Darel
Judith … Assumpta Serna
Mother … Dominique Sanda
Uncle … Mathias Gnadinger
Lys … Arno Chevrier
Teacher … Paul Burian
Painter … Heribert Sasse
Young Henry … Andreas Schmidt
Young Anna … Anna Scheschonk
Spectacular sets, a massive cast and torrid sex scenes make this sprawling take of an 1880 novel an easy sell in specialized markets, even if slightly cheesy aura will keep it off the A circuit.
Pic opens in Munich during carnival bacchanalia, and rarely have there been so many tongues thrust, invited or not, into so many mouths. There’s even a uvular tango between hulking Lys (Arno Chevrier, doing his best Depardieu imitation) and his sensitive painter pal Henry. Amidst all the polymorphous perversity, the latter — who wears a green suit as a sign of his immaturity and envy — is incensed to find Lys cheating on his virginal fiancee, and challenges the older man to a morning-after duel. What Henry’s really steamed about is his own failure to follow through on the lost love of his life. The balance of the tale moves to Switzerland, and a much more sober tone, as we see young Henry (Andreas Schmidt) lose his father, seek the elusive love of his stern mother (Dominique Sanda, impressive in a static role), take Dickensian abuse at school and discover the theater via a seductive actress, Judith (Assumpta Serna). Most important, he fumbles his relationship with cousin Anna (first played by Anna Scheschonk, then by ethereal Florence Darel).
Later, a somewhat older Henry (stoical Thibault de Montalembert) rediscovers his childhood sweetheart, but is distracted once again when Judith, who hasn’t aged a day, pops up in the same village. What he doesn’t appreciate until too late is Anna’s frail condition: She coughs a lot, and since this is the 19th century, she must have TB. Picturesque tragedy ensues, along with much more kissing.
The contrast between serious existential undercurrent and literal, bodice-ripping turmoil is sometimes jarring — a bit like “Kaspar Hauser” meeting “Wide Sargasso Sea.” Dialogue looping was dubious in French-lingo version caught (called “Henri le Vert”), but dubbing problems would stymie any package here, considering the polyglot cast. Once it gets going, though, the pic moves briskly, and tech credits are generally sensational, with Gerard Vandenburg’s colorful lensing the biggest plus. Bruno Coulais’ folkloric score is also attractive, even if it rings about two centuries out of date.