×

Confession of a Child of the Century

Love is dramatically lost, unexpectedly regained and then gradually poisoned by uncertainty and jealousy in Alfred de Musset's story.

With:
With: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Peter Doherty, August Diehl, Lily Cole, Volker Bruch, Guillaume Gallienne, Karole Rocher, Rhian Rees. (English dialogue)

Love is dramatically lost, unexpectedly regained and then gradually poisoned by uncertainty and jealousy in Alfred de Musset’s novel, “Confession of a Child of the Century.” But in Gallic helmer Sylvie Verheyde’s English-language film adaptation, the dramatic temperature never seems to budge much, let alone oscillate vertiginously. Leads Charlotte Gainsbourgh (“Melancholia”) and the Libertines singer Peter Doherty, making an inauspicious acting debut, have all the chemistry of two frozen fish filets, with line readings to match. Though the film is not uninteresting on a technical level, few auds will have the patience for this bloodless and shockingly apolitical period romance.

Poet de Musset’s only fictional work, written in 1836, was inspired by his stormy relationship with fellow writer Georges Sand (their affair was filmed as “Children of the Century” in 1999, with Juliette Binoche as Sand). Musset’s famous “disease of the century” is the excruciating malaise of uncertainty that inspired the French Romantic movement and generally proliferated in the minds of the men of the early 1800s, a time of political volatility since the French Revolution, the First Republic and Napoleonic France had all come and gone in quick succession. Though the monarchy was restored by the 1830s, every enlightened Frenchman realized nothing would simply return to how it was before.

The genius of de Musset’s “Confession” was that he took France’s recent past and uncertain future as the template for an epic love story, metaphorically putting the country’s well-being at stake as the relationship unfolds. It’s startling, then, that Verheyde (“Stella”) has completely gutted the story’s political dimension — which might have resonated strongly in our own uncertain times — to focus solely on the love affair, the outcome of which will affect, in this adaptation at least, all of two whiny Anglophone Frenchies who can’t make up their minds.

Octave (Doherty), who seems well off but clearly has no hair-styling budget, is at his wits’ end when he discovers his beloved (Lily Cole, in a cameo) has cheated on him. Inconsolable and egged on by a libertine friend (August Diehl, boasting an unsteady accent), he falls into a life of debauchery that is rather too tastefully filmed. The heavy drinking and hanky-panky only come to a screeching halt when Octave’s father dies.

While still in mourning, Octave meets a young widow, Brigitte (Gainsbourg), during a wintertime walk that’s captured, like much of the film, in seemingly anachronistic but very effective handheld shots. The couple’s black period garb also stands out nicely against the snow-covered landscape, showing Verheyde (“Stella”) has a good visual sense.

Octave falls in love with Brigitte immediately and, after a lot of bosom-heaving and haggling, she finally admits she has the hots for him, too. This transpires in long swaths of dialogue, although most of de Musset’s poetic qualities are lost in the pedestrian English used here. The drawing-room scenes with bigger groups feel quite authentic, but credibility plummets whenever Verheyde gets Octave and Brigitte alone, with the actors incapable of suggesting anything nonverbal about their rapport.

What remains is a chemistry-free period piece with interesting cinematography, a vaguely New Age-y score that manages to be both melancholic and propulsive, and costume and production design that are austere, probably due to budgetary reasons more than anything else.

Popular on Variety

Confession of a Child of the Century

France

Production: An Ad Vitam release of an Ad Vitam, Les Films du Veyrier presentation of a Les Films du Veyrier production, in association with Integral Films, Warp Films, Herodiade, Touscoprod, with the participation of Arte France Cinema, Canal Plus, Cine Plus. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Bruno Berthemy. Co-producers, Alfred Huermer, Peter Carlton. Directed, written by Sylvie Verheyde, based on the novel by Alfred de Musset.

Crew: Camera (color), Nicolas Gaurin; editor, Christel Dewynter; music, NousDeux the Band; production designer, Thomas Grezaud; costume designer, Esther Waltz; sound (Dolby Digital), Dimitri Haulet, Raphael Sogier, Olivier Do Huu. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard), May 20, 2012. Running time: 121 MIN.

Cast: With: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Peter Doherty, August Diehl, Lily Cole, Volker Bruch, Guillaume Gallienne, Karole Rocher, Rhian Rees. (English dialogue)

More Scene

  • Demi Moore Corporate Animals

    Demi Moore Teases Upcoming Memoir 'Inside Out,' Talks 'Corporate Animals' Team Bonding

    As Demi Moore gears up for the Sept. 24 release of her autobiography “Inside Out,” the actress says she feels like a weight has been lifted. “Even the stuff that I may have been nervous about is completely lifting…because it’s a process,” Moore told Variety at the premiere of her upcoming film “Corporate Animals” at [...]

  • Connie Britton BlogHer Summit

    Connie Britton on ‘Friday Night Lights’ Remake: ‘You Need to Let it Go’

    Connie Britton opened up at a fireside chat Wednesday at the #BlogHer19 Creators Summit in Brooklyn by talking about one of her most beloved roles — Tami Taylor in the fan favorite series “Friday Night Lights.” When asked if a remake of the sports cult film and Emmy-winning TV show is in the works she [...]

  • Mariah Carey Tracee Ellis Ross

    Mariah Carey, Tracee Ellis Ross Celebrate Biracial Heritage at “Mixed-ish” Premiere

    Mariah Carey and Tracee Ellis Ross embraced their “ish” at Tuesday night’s series premiere event for ABC’s “Mixed-ish” by reflecting on how their biracial identity makes working on the new show even more personal. “I’m just so thankful that this show exists,” Carey told the assembled crowd during a Q&A with series creator Kenya Barris. [...]

  • #WorldIsInOurHands Campaign

    Rainn Wilson, Rosario Dawson, Joaquin Phoenix And More Join #WorldIsInOurHands Campaign

    At the 44th annual Toronto Film Festival last week, in addition to attending red-carpet premieres and promoting films, some stars also joined in the fight to tackle the climate crisis. Antonio Banderas, Susan Sarandon, Joaquin Phoenix, Rainn Wilson, Rosario Dawson, Neve Campbell and Alfre Woodard are among the bold-faced names to join forces with the [...]

  • Hopper Reserve

    Dennis Hopper's Dying Wish: His Own Strain of Marijuana

    Even as celebrity brands are starting to flood the emerging Cannabis market, Hopper Reserve stands out. The brand was launched by Marin Hopper, Dennis Hopper’s daughter from his marriage to Brooke Hayward. Hopper Reserve is a gram of California indoor-grown flower, two packs of rolling papers, a pair of matches and a trading card either [...]

  • Lowell Smokes Cafe Marijuana

    With Cannabis Lounges, On-Site Consumption, Marijuana-Infused Meals Go Legit

    Can this century’s Roaring ’20s repeat history but with pre-rolled joints instead of whiskey flasks and soccer moms as the new flappers? This month, West Hollywood will see the opening of the nation’s first at least quasi-legal cannabis consumption lounge, officially dubbed Lowell Farms: A Cannabis Café, located at 1211 N. La Brea between Fountain [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content