Maybe someday, when we’re trapped in an unhappy upper-crust marriage of our very own, we’ll come to appreciate a film like Patrice ChÃ©reau‘s "Gabrielle," which, in the long tradition of Strindberg, Bergman and Ibsen, reminds us all that hell is indeed other people, especially when you marry one of them. Based on the Joseph Conrad‘s short story "The Return," "Gabrielle" stars Isabelle Huppert as the titular female and Pascal Greggory as her husband Jean, together a bourgeois turn-of-the-century couple â€” successful, respected, prone to throwing weekly dinner parties. Jean’s utterly satisfied with his life, until he comes to what is apparently a shattering revelation that the perfect wife that he hasn’t slept with in years and looks upon as a possession (the "prized item" in his collection) is having an affair and long ago fell out of love with him.
He figures this out because Gabrielle left behind a note saying that she was leaving him for another man â€” unfortunately, she can’t bring herself to go through with it and returns, and the bulk of the film is spend following the two as they discuss at length Gabrielle’s affair and what will become of their marriage, with each other as well as with the servants who are always hovering in the background.
Huppert, ringleted and regal as anything (if she wasn’t so very French, she’d be the perfect Queen Elizabeth), is near incandescent as a woman who, having played the ideal spouse for so long, finally has her husband interested in how she really feels. We were less impressed by Pascal Greggory’s talked-up performance as Jean, whose frenzied bursts of rage seemed more goofy than passionate. ChÃ©reau’s script, co-written by Anne-Louise Trividic, is at times clever and cruel (and upheld by Eric Gautier‘s fluid camerawork) but elsewhere seems circular and interminable. By an hour in, we were longing for one, or better, both of the characters to decide to take arsenic. Spoilers: they don’t.
"Gabrielle" currently has no US distributor.