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Ne touchez pas la hache (a.k.a. The Duchess of Langeais)

(2008) ** Unrated
139 min. IFC First Take. Director: Jacques Rivette. Cast: Jeanne Balibar, Guillaume Depardieu, Michel Piccoli, Bulle Ogier, Barbet Schroeder.
Director Jacques Rivette, a contemporary of famous New Wave filmmakers Truffaut and Godard, turned 80 this month, and he celebrates with a new film in theaters. The Duchess of Langeais, adapted from a novella by Honoré de Balzac, details a ruinous romance in 1820s Paris, where social manners dictate that courtship games be played hard-to-get. Jeanne Balibar plays a married coquette who fancies stringing along a rough-edged Napoleonic general played by Guillaume Depardieu. Rivette's no-nonsense style evokes its source, but lacks palpable conviction. It's difficult to feel a part of the characters' lives, and Balibar in particular fails to make her character empathic. Ultimately, there's something decidedly drafty about this tale of masochistic love that suggests it's better left to the page or perhaps a more hot-blooded adaptation.
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