Presenting ample evidence of the margin for disaster in filmic Europuddings, “The Night and the Moment” throws together an Italian director, French source material and a high-caliber English-speaking cast with no sign of the various sensibilities ever becoming acquainted. Battling against turgid repartee, glaring miscasting and a directorial void, stars Willem Dafoe, Lena Olin and Miranda Richardson can do little to bring this moribund erotic frock piece to life. Theatrical light of day looks to be momentary at best.
Comparison with Stephen Frears'”Dangerous Liaisons” will be inevitable and brutal. Taken from a novel by licentious 18th-century scribe Crebillon, the story is basically a duel of words between a wily, libertine writer (Dafoe) and an alluring noblewoman (Olin), with seduction the unhurried goal.
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A guest at her chateau, the writer slips into her boudoir after lights-out and launches into the first of numbing discourses on the nature of love. In no rush to hit the hay, shecoaxes him to recount some of his amorous escapades with the other guests. To Ennio Morricone’s monotonously rambunctious, faux-classical score, the pic recaps his conquest of over-eager Armande (Carole Richert), followed by a more diverting hit on high-minded Julie (Miranda Richardson).
More interesting are his recollections of time spent in prison for his immoral writings and dangerous acquaintances. Pic stokes a modicum of curiosity as to the identity of the woman in the next cell. Communicatingwith him unseen through a hole in the wall, her mysteriousness sparks something closer to love than to the conquering spirit in him.
A further sign of life comes by way of the prison governor (playfully limned by Jean-Claude Carriere, long-term Luis Bunuel collaborator and co-scripter of this doozy).
The writer’s gradual seduction of the marquise is ploddingly charted in lifeless, literary dialogue. When the pair finally make whoopee, high-art lensing helps kill whatever shreds of credible passion have been worked up.
Aside from Carriere, Olin emerges with the lion’s share of dignity. Her regal bearing goes a long way toward masking her unsuitability for the role. Appearing stifled by his wardrobe and dialogue, Dafoe often seems to be winking at the audience, with little concern for keeping his contempo demeanor locked away. Richardson looks no less out of place, but even more uncomfortable.
Italo director/co-writer Anna Maria Tato brings no definitive stamp to the material, and little guidance to the actors. Instead, she surrounds herself with prestige contributors like Morricone and lensman Giuseppe Rotunno, both of whom work under par. Costumer Gabriella Pescucci’s threads are impressive, but largely squandered within a production design that’s short on scope, giving the whole outing a pinched, theatrical feel.