review by Paula Nechak, 2 August 2002
beauty of the three-hour epic, Les Destinées, is that it is
directed by Olivier Assayas, the Frenchman who so exquisitely
comments upon contemporary society through the examination of its
relationships. The 1998 film Late August, Early September is
one of my favorite Assayas efforts, languishing on dramatic events
born out of everyday occurrences among a group of thirty-something
Parisians who are linked by their friendship with a generation-older
writer (Francois Cluzet). Gabriel (Mathieu Amalric), Jenny (Jeanne
Balibar) and Anne (Virginie Ledoyen) weave through Adrien's chaotic
life, searching for happiness and attempting to discern their place
in the world's scheme. Only Adrien's inevitable death -- and the
discovery that he has left behind an adolescent girlfriend named
Vera (Mia Hansen-Love) -- allows them to find a fragment of footing
on the slippery slope of circumstance.
Late August, Early September is a beautifully crafted film,
teeming with small moments and observations. Those cinematic
intimacies are Assayas' trademark as well in other films like Irma
Vep and Cold Water and the director reaps a harvestful of
human poignancies and riches in that which is not easily discerned
in the haze and haste of urban bustle, impersonality and
made sense then that Assayas might do wonders with Les Destinées
sentimentales, a dense turn-of-the-century tome by Jacques
Chardonne that chronicles the interwoven doings between two
prominent French families. The film, which played at Cannes in 2000,
is Assayas' first period piece and, as expected, pays lavish
attention to detail and the delicate nuance of time and place. The
Barnery lineage includes Jean (Charles Berling) a remote minister
married to the wayward Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert). The film begins
with a door closing and another opening as Jean dismisses his wife
and young daughter to another town because he suspects she has been
unfaithful. His prim and inaccessible mind wishes to avoid a scandal
within his parish so, despite his concern for his child, he allows
her to be taken and his already dour personality absorbs the loss
like a sponge. He retreats further inside himself, believing he has
a harbor in his faith. And though he is the family's saviour, he
refuses to listen to their urgings to leave the ministry and take
over operation of the family porcelain factory.
Pommerels are another story. They're earthy and rebellious --
especially the women. While the men tend to the manufacture of
family label cognac, twenty-year-old Pauline (Emmanuelle Béart)
returns from Paris where she has been educated in a
"modern" way. But upon meeting upright, uptight Jean
something melts inside of her. She understands that this staid,
sensible man is her destiny and no obstacle (and there are many in
the forty year expanse that the film frames) -- not divorce, poverty
or war -- can keep them interminably apart.
is so much visually right and new and thrilling in Les Destinées
that it's a damned shame Assayas' usually reliable heart, as far as
human instinct and behavior is concerned, fails him. For sure, his
eye is on target: a ballroom dance sequence is reinvented from the
morass of the usual wide angle it's been cursed with and emerges as
intense and spellbinding as the opening tracking shot in Goodfellas.
So it may be that the scope of a massive source text has blinded
him, or he's gotten hung up in the minutae of making a movie that
demands so much exhaustive research and restoration that he
neglected the key components that have made his films great --
narrative cohesiveness, passion and access into the minds and
motivations of his characters.
a misstep for Assayas, no matter how courageous, and I can only hope
he'll have shaken off the desire to mine the mysteries of the past.
While I admire innovation and attempting something new, Assayas
belongs to the here and now. If he's gotten it out of his system and
acknowledges that he tried a film that has been done many times in
spirit -- Sunshine, Jerusalem, The Age of Innocence
-- then perhaps he'll return to his generation -- one which
desperately needs his brilliant vision.
NR - Not Rated.
This film has
not been rated.