×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Rohmer’s ‘Lady’ explores new filmic territory

18th-century tale to be told using superimposed scenes

HOLLYWOOD — When Sony Pictures Classics releases “The Lady and the Duke” Stateside in the spring, the unconventional historical treatment may come as a surprise to Eric Rohmer’s small but faithful U.S. audience.

The French director’s latest film is a departure from the contemporary tales of romantic interplay most associated with the auteur, whose last release, “An Autumn’s Tale” — a modern-day meditation on grown-up relationships set in the Rhone Valley — was the third-highest-grossing French film of 1999 ($2.1 million).

“The Lady and the Duke,” on the other hand, is set in 18th-century Paris against the backdrop of the French Revolution. But it’s no staid period piece: It’s filmed with cutting-edge digital effects via which the actors are superimposed against large, detailed paintings — the first movie ever to utilize such an effect.

“Everything is filmed from the front,” explains Francoise Etchegaray, producer of “Lady and the Duke,” who has worked with Rohmer for 18 years. “We chose to film in beta digital because it was more like painting. There’s less poetry with high-definition video.”

“He’s always been ahead of the curve as far as being first at new trends in films,” says Sony Pictures Classics co-prexy Michael Barker, whose company has released many of Rohmer’s films over the past two decades. “Here is a filmmaker who has not only held his own in digital video, but used new special effects and somehow retained his personality.”

It’s been 32 years since Rohmer’s “My Night at Maud’s” charmed audiences worldwide with its typically Gallic sexual repartee. The now-octogenarian director was already nearly 50 years old when he finally broke through as a major New Wave director after years as a journalist and TV director.

At 81, he prefers to live out of the spotlight and almost never does interviews, or accepts invitations to festivals or retrospectives. It was producer and friend Pierre Rissient who persuaded him to travel to the Venice Intl. Film Festival to accept the Lifetime Achievement Award and unspool his new film.

“I had a debt to the Venice film festival, which has awarded prizes three times to my films, ‘A Good Marriage,’ ‘The Green Ray’ and ‘Autumn Tale,'” Rohmer said in a statement to the fest. “I made the decision long ago not to attend any festival, but it would have been discourteous of me to not attend once again, given that Venice is bestowing an award upon me for my entire body of work.”

Rohmer based the story of “Lady and the Duke” on “The Journal of My Life During the French Revolution,” a memoir by Grace Elliot, a young Scottish woman who was friend and mistress to the Duke of Orleans. Searching for the right actress to portray Elliot, Rohmer put out a notice to a London casting agency, which sent dozens of tapes. He found his thesp in Lucy Russell, a virtually unknown actress who impressed Rohmer with her knowledge of the memoirs. Veteran French actor Jean-Claude Dreyfus (“Fitzcarraldo,” “Delicatessen,” “City of Lost Children”) plays the duke.

In a recent interview in Cahiers du Cinema –which Rohmer edited at a seminal time when fellow filmmakers Jean-Luc Godard and Jacques Rivette were also associated with the magazine — he says the film’s look was influenced by several lesser-known French painters.

Before shooting, he also watched historical films, including “The Orphans of the Storm” by D.W. Griffith, Abel Gance’s “Napoleon” and Jean Renoir’s “La Marseillaise.”

Rohmer’s earlier period films were conventionally shot — “Perceval le Gallois” (1978) in a studio, and “The Marquise of O” (1976) using historically accurate locations. Paintings were clearly a major influence for these films: In “The Marquise of O,” shot by Nestor Almendros, an actress reclining in a draped satin dress recalls Manet’s “Odalisque.”

Since very few Paris neighborhoods have an 18th-century look, Rohmer was determined that “Lady and the Duke” look historically accurate. Thus exteriors were filmed in front of 37 backgrounds created by artist Jean-Baptiste Marot created from period street maps and engravings. Reinforcing the vintage feel, silent film-style intertitles are used between scenes.

“It’s amazing, he’s an artist at the peak of his form, he’s undaunted by new things,” says Barker. “(With ‘Lady and the Duke’), you feel like you have leaped into the canvas.”

More Film

  • Black Panther

    'Black Panther,' 'Crazy Rich Asians,' 'Westworld' Among Costume Designers Guild Winners

    “Crazy Rich Asians,” “The Favourite” and “Black Panther” walked away with top honors at the 21st annual Costume Designers Guild Awards Tuesday night, the final industry guild show before the Oscars on Feb. 24. “The Favourite” and “Black Panther” are up for the Oscar this year, along with “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” “Mary Poppins [...]

  • WGA Writers Contract Talks

    Talent Agents, WGA Achieve Progress in Second Round of Talks

    Hollywood talent agents and the Writers Guild of America have achieved some progress at their second negotiating session over agency regulations, according to sources close to the talks. The two sides met Tuesday, two weeks after their first meeting resulted in both sides criticizing each other, followed by the WGA holding a trio of spirited [...]

  • Aaron Paul

    Film News Roundup: Aaron Paul Honored by Sun Valley Film Festival

    In today’s film news roundup, Aaron Paul is honored, Bruce Berman is re-upped at Village Roadshow, and Paola Mendoza and Abby Sher get a book deal. FESTIVAL HONORS The Sun Valley Film Festival has selected Idaho native and three-time Emmy winner Aaron Paul as the winner of its Pioneer Award, presented by Variety for his [...]

  • Olivia Munn]EMILY'S List Pre-Oscars Brunch, Inside,

    Olivia Munn Says Brett Ratner Called Her Before His 'Howard Stern' Apology

    Olivia Munn is setting the record straight about standing up to “Rush Hour” director Brett Ratner, whom she alleges sexually harassed her over a decade ago. During a panel discussion at the Emily’s List pre-Oscars brunch at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills Tuesday morning, Munn revealed that Ratner called her in 2011 after he denied [...]

  • Flesh Out review

    Berlin Film Review: 'Flesh Out'

    Ignore the awful English-language title: “Flesh Out” is an emotionally rich, sensitively made film about a young woman in Mauritania forced to gain weight in order to conform to traditional concepts of well-rounded beauty before her impending marriage. Strikingly registering the sensations of a protagonist living between the dutiful traditions of her class and the [...]

  • Marighella review

    Berlin Film Review: 'Marighella'

    Does Brazil need a film that openly advocates armed confrontation against its far-right government? That’s the first question that needs to be asked when discussing “Marighella,” actor Wagner Moura’s directorial debut focused on the final year in the life of left-wing insurrectionist Carlos Marighella during Brazil’s ruthless military dictatorship. For whatever one might think of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content