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Of course the director, Catherine Breillat, brings a threat of danger herself. But even as the de rigueur sex scenes are moderately explicit, they’re a marked retreat from the envelope-pushing extremes of the filmmaker’s Romance and The Fat Girl (not to mention what was apparently felt to be too sticky for public consumption in the provinces, Anatomy of Hell, available on DVD), and they’re also in short supply. Breillat, a bit bogged down in talky exposition as well as in a disproportionate and ill-placed flashback, is plainly in no hurry to assault any barriers or to generate facile sensation. She demonstrates herself to be completely committed to the period, the costumes, the settings, the sentiments, in short the total sense of reality, recorded in crystalline photography and unadorned with meddlesome background music. Her societal portrait has almost a documentary instructiveness. Certainly there is nothing radical, only something coldly historical, in the exposure of the Biblical sexism of the wedding ceremony. The extremes in the movie — a Romantic work with a capital “R,” however tarnished that letter might be — are those of the human heart, not the human flesh. Argento’s nakedness is the matter of least concern when she’s sitting astride her lover, cowgirl-style, and howling with grief rather than ecstasy, at the funeral pyre of their infant daughter in the Algerian desert. That, and for that matter the movie as a whole, is something to see.

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geneven Aug. 22, 2008 @ 1:51 p.m.

It's always a pleasure to read Duncan's reviews, whether I agree with them or not. When I worked in Manhattan or lived in Moscow, I always turned to them for a distinctive point of view. Now that I'm back in the USSA, they are equally useful. Thanks!

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