MPI // 2008 // 98 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // May 25th, 2011
Like a Gallic Gossip Girl? Really?
Junie (Lea Seydoux, Inglourious Basterds) is the new kid in school. Sexually charged and looking for an outlet, she first falls for moody doormat Otto (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet, Love Songs). Eventually, she hooks up with her hunky Italian teacher, Mr. Nemours (Louis Garrel, The Dreamers). As the rest of the classroom populace play various permutations of bawdy bedhopping (students with students, teachers with teachers, students with teachers, etc.), a classic case of mistaken identity -- in this instance, a found love letter -- brings everyone's secret alliances and dalliances to light. How post-millennial.
It's interesting how the rest of the world views student/teacher sexual liaisons. In America, movies like Daydream Nation turn the statutory situation into a lewd life lesson in acting your age. But the French...the French feel it necessary to romanticize the high school hottie with should-know-better adult copulation as part of the process of living -- at least they do in this otherwise scattered "comedy." Made by director Christophe Honore with far too much style and subplots, this ditzy, depressing adaptation of Madame de La Fayette's 17th century novel La Princesse de Clèves is awfully overstuffed. There are too many characters, too many ancillary narrative threads, and too many moments where lust and longing replace anything realistic or authentic.
Honore is known for taking an unusual stylistic approach to his storytelling, and The Beautiful Person is no exception. Characters are just as capable of crying their eyes out and breaking into song. It's a weird artistic ambivalence. Instead of taking the material and making it post-modern, he fashions the old narrative devices of the novel and lets them run roughshod over any subtlety. Even with the slightly skeezy subject matter, we could get behind a Junie/Mr. Nemour relationship if it was more than just wonky window dressing. Instead, we are supposed to see everything here -- literally everything -- as a bright, sunshiny, French suburban day. Instead of being powerful, it's plastic. Instead of meaning anything significant, The Beautiful Person is superficial.
From a DVD perspective, MPI does a fine job. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image is excellent, filled with the colors and cheerful touches Honore seems to enjoy. The visual element here is arresting -- far more than the film itself. Similarly, the French-language Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is quality, if not quite necessary. While there is not an overwhelming amount of sonic ambience, what is here is represented well. Sadly, the rest of the disc is basic and barebones: a trailer, and nothing more. It would be interesting to hear Honore on why he chose to adapt such dated material, and the difficulties of finding a modern counterpart (which he didn't always do, successfully). Instead, it's a preview and nothing more.
If you don't mind the concept of mindless diddling for the sake of little or no high school dramatics, then The Beautiful Person will be your teacher/teen ticket. All others should be warned away from this otherwise cloying extracurricular piffle.
Guilty. Messy and meaningless.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated