The many admiring reviews may be too generous to the pathos of passing time, to tender shots of fallen apricots and running water, to pastoral lines like, “Are camellias flowers of pain?” In a refined way, like murmuring echoes of Yasujiro Ozu’s more rigorous films, Poetry sustains its delicate tensions, its autumnal fidelity to fate. It is also like being stuck in a Korean shrine made of Hallmark cards. Your own mind might start to slip away, in lovely increments of decay. Is that a poem? Probably not. ★★
The Princess of Montpensier
Veteran director Bertrand Tavernier only makes smart, high-crafted films. His 23rd theatrical feature, The Princess of Montpensier, has those virtues but little creative excitement. The French wars of Catholics vs. Protestants provide 16th-century background (in a violent, up-front way) for a tale of romantic abandon. It could be a Twilight story minus vampires but with castles, sword fights, great horses, pike-stabbings, and the murder of pregnant peasants.
Caught in the strife involving religion, rank, land, and money, the golden and bosomy teen Marie (Mélanie Thierry) must marry an insecure, jealous noble (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet). She prefers a bold, virile rake (Gaspard Ulliel). Their go-between is a minor aristocrat (Lambert Wilson) who has renounced war because of its inhumanity. Like another Michel de Montaigne, but much more exposed than the great essayist, he discovers that desire is as infectious as fanaticism and that men of scruples like himself are convenient targets.
Trappings are excellent. Tavernier directed with energy. Raphaël Personnaz is a witty Duc d’Anjou. Wilson is movingly vulnerable. The recipe for eel sounds tasty. But the film is itself a recipe that falls snugly into place, cooked by hot blood on the rise. In the 1950s, the impudent rebels Godard and Truffaut excoriated the “tradition of quality” in French films. Princess is fairly close to the movies they attacked, not always fairly. ★★
Reviewed in this week’s listings: The Elephant in the Living Room, Fast Five, Jumping the Broom, Something Borrowed, There Be Dragons, Thor.