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Case Number 11973: Small Claims Court

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La Belle Captive

Koch Lorber // 1983 // 85 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jesse Ataide (Retired) // August 30th, 2007

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All Rise...

All things considered, Judge Jesse Ataide finds this mix of high art and soft-core nudity less than irresistible.

The Charge

Artistic erotica. Or is it?

The Case

I've been waiting a long time to see one of Alain Robbe-Grillet's films, and I eagerly anticipated the DVD release of La Belle Captive, his 1983 film adaptation of his own novel by the same name. A fusion of Robbe-Grillet's groundbreaking noveau roman narrative techniques and Rene Magritte's paintings (the original novel is illustrated with some 77 paintings by the surrealist master), Robbe-Grillet the director strives for the same visual tone as Magritte—enigmatic, haunting and vaguely disturbing—but unfortunately ends up with a rather silly concoction of metaphysical pronouncements and a rather stale retread of multiple literary and cinematic tropes.

A synopsis of the film would be impossible, or at least not give any real indication of what the film is actually about, but it revolves around a man Walter (Daniel Mesguich, The Musketeer) who falls for Marie-Ange (Gabrielle Lazure, Joshua Then and Now) a beautiful, mysterious woman he dances with at a bar one night. Called away by his boss (Cyrielle Claire, Le Professionnel) on an important mission (Walter is a secret agent of some kind), he comes across Marie-Ange bound, gagged and injured in the middle of a deserted road. He takes her to a nearby mansion to get help, but the leering, zombie-like figures they encounter lock them in a bedroom. After a night of feverish, sadomasochistic lovemaking (with frequent hallucination inspired by Magritte's paintings) Walter wakes up in the morning to find Marie-Ange gone, and he immediately sets out to find her. Only he quickly begins to doubt himself; could it all have been a dream?

Even if the synopsis makes La Belle Captive sound like a relatively straightforward detective story/noir-inspired film, Robbe Grillet makes sure that it is anything but, using a garish color pallet (by the famed Henri Aleken, the man behind the look of such diverse, iconic films as Roman Holiday, Cocteau's La belle et la bete and Wings of Desire), surreal imagery and a fractured storytelling technique. All in all, it adds up to a big mess. One can sense the yearning for mythic, epic stature in the film's vampiric ghosts, fetish figures, detective film overtones and erotic interludes, but more often than not it comes across as a soft-core parody of Last Year at Marienbad, whose Oscar nominated screenplay is Robbe-Grillet's most lasting (and well known) cinematic achievement.

That's not to say that La Belle Captive is completely without merit. Considering the character she plays (which is some kind of bizarre, ambiguous combination of angel, ghost and vampire) Lazure gives an intriguing performance, somehow managing to give the impression of being both carnal and ethereal in nature, and the integration of paintings is often quite arresting. If anything, there's an admittedly bizarre gravity that the film's closed off, artificial atmosphere creates, though finally the dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream structure becomes tiresome. I guess when it comes down to it I found a lot of words and color and images but very little poetry. Certainly a disappointment, though I remain unfazed in my hope that more of Robbe-Grillet's experiments as director (he has several other films with better reputations) make their way to DVD soon.

Turning to the disc itself: the image is fine, often doing justice to the bright, garish colors and intended-to-be-atmospheric shadows. Sometimes the pictures looks a little hazy, but I wonder if that was intentional on the filmmaker's part (it certainly does that glossy, oversaturated soft-core look to it). The audio track is serviceable, nothing more and the only bonus feature is the film's theatrical trailer. Yellow subtitles in English are also provided.

Not guilty, but just barely.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 72

Perp Profile

Studio: Koch Lorber
Video Formats:
• 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
• English
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 1983
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Drama
• Erotic
• Foreign

Distinguishing Marks

• Original Theatrical Trailer


• IMDb

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