The Disenchanted


1990’s The Disenchanted (La Désenchantée), just released in the U.S., offers further evidence that Benoît Jacquot is incapable of making an uninteresting film. His sometimes inscrutable movies, which include A Single Girl (1995) and Marianne (1994, rel. 1997), are so lovely that you never want to look away from the screen; it hurts to walk out of the theater into ordinary daylight.

Like those two later films, The Disenchanted focuses on a young female protagonist struggling toward self-actualization. In this one, a boyfriend makes an offhand morning-after comment that Beth (Judith Godreche, who showed up stateside in The Man in the Iron Mask) could prove her love for him by having sex with the ugliest man she can find. If you find that puzzling, never mind — for reasons that are never completely clear, Beth takes his challenge to heart. Before we’re sure what she’s thinking, she’s trolling a local disco and going home with the gawkiest dancer she can find, who seems barely to register his good fortune. His loss; bored and revolted, Beth splits after his first awkward advance.

From there, The Disenchanted could be characterized as something of a cinematic doodle, not so much a character study as a sketch. Beth has a strange encounter with an older writer who breaks up a fight with her unnamed boyfriend, she reports on Rimbaud to her high school classmates, she has an awkward chat with her little brother about the proper size of a cartoon penis. Most disturbingly, her invalid mother encourages her to give herself to the portly “uncle” who’s been helping her family with the bills.

What the hell does it all mean? Ah, who knows? This meandering film could make Kieslowski seem literal-minded. But films like this are small treasures because they trade in ambiguity, rather than specificity. Like life itself, they may lack explicit meaning, but they’re rich with implication.

Written and Directed by Benoît Jacquot
Cinematography by Caroline Champetier
Edited by Dominique Auvray
Starring Judith Godrèche
France, 1990
Theatrical aspect ratio: 1.85:1 (should be 1.66:1?)

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