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Duchess of Langeais, The

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Jacques Rivette’s latest, a bitterly

romantic adaptation of Honoré de Balzac, is exquisitely

realized, even by Rivette standards. Costume design, art direction

and cinematography all work together in concert: early scenes in

which the titular Duchess is a woman of great mystery and allure are

lit like Caravaggio paintings; a later passage, which takes place

after we see how she’s been wrecked on the inside — she stands on a

Parisian street in buttoned-up clothing, wearing a tall hat and a

lost, wistful expression on her face as autumn leaves swirl around

her feet — has the look of classic Hollywood melodrama, or even

the arch magic of Pressburger-Powell. (I admit, Black Narcissus was

never too far from my mind.)

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