La Belle Personne

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San Sebastian Film Festival

Several years ago Hollywood took the basic plot of "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" and turned it into a contemporary tale of teen lust and betrayal called "Cruel Intentions," with Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe. In a sense that is what director Christophe Honore has attempted in "La Belle Personne." Honore has chosen to rework a 17th-century novel, "The Princess of Cleves," which was set in the court of Henry II, in a contemporary French high school. The bizarre production has moments of provocation and poignancy, but it seems more like a film student's exercise than a fully realized work of art. Despite the attractive young French actors mooning over each other, it's hard to imagine this picture catching on with American audiences.

In part this is because it's hard to keep all the characters straight. Honore plunges into the action without taking much time to establish and distinguish the large cast of frustrated young lovers. The central character is a teacher, Nemours (Louis Garrel, who co-starred in Bertolucci's "The Dreamers"), who looks as young as the students in his class. Nemours has quite a harem, including a fellow teacher and several students in his class. He is especially infatuated with a new girl in school, Junie (Lea Seydoux), who also initiates a romance with a shy young student, Otto (Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet). But this school is a hotbed of amorous intrigue, with many secret liaisons, both gay and straight. You can see traces of the 17th century story in some of the antique plot twists, like a letter that falls into the wrong hands and causes havoc.

Honore opts for a stylized approach, which even includes one of the characters bursting into song just before he commits suicide. In its slightly deranged way, the film does capture the intensity and self-absorption of teenagers in the throes of first love. The actors bring a lot of conviction to their yearnings. This is one of those movies that viewers will either love or hate. While it sometimes succumbs to absurdity, it does convince you that romantic obsession has always driven people to the very brink of insanity.

Production: Scarlett Productions.
Cast: Louis Garrel, Lea Seydoux, Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet, Esteban Carvajal-Alegria, Anais Demoustier, Agathe Bonitzer, Chiara Mastroianni.
Director: Christophe Honore.
Screenwriters: Christophe Honore, Gilles Taurand.
Producers: Florence Dormoy, Joey Fare.
Executive producer: Sophie Barrat.
Director of photography: Laurent Brunet.
Production designer: Samuel Deshors.
Music: Alex Beaupain.
Costume designer: Pierre Canitrot.
Editor: Chantal Hymans.
Sales agent: Le Pacte.
No MPAA rating, 88 minutes.

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