This sixth version of D.H. Lawrence's groundbreaking, long-censored exploration of forbidden, class-crossing love and the revelatory quality of human sexuality goes wrong in a mind-boggling myriad of ways. Director/adapter Pascale Ferran has kept the bare bones of the story: Constance Chatterley (Marina Hands), stultifyingly married to the aristocratic, crippled Clifford (Hippolyte Girardot), finds fulfilling passion in the arms of Clifford's gamekeeper, Parkin (Jean-Louis Coullo'ch). But where Lawrence used this premise as a taking-off point for his enduringly radical queries into the politics of sex and class, Ferran has produced a soft-core French chick flick, all glossy prettiness, with the depth of a puddle.
Lady Chatterley runs 168 minutes, an interminable length, in which Ferran's camera seems to be forever following Constance as she meanders through the grounds of her vast estate, usually in search of Parkin (whose name has been changed from Mellors in the book, for no apparent reason). Their affair unfolds at a snail's pace and, what is surprising, in this age of cinematic freedom, is how much sexier the book remains as compared to the movie. Lawrence's descriptions of the couple's trysts can still leave you with mouth agape and certainly an understanding of why the novel was banned for so many years, while Ferran's scenes are like those run on Cinemax after midnight. Because the dialogue is in French, we get no idea of the actually quite educated gamekeeper's deliberate use of rough, country language, a choice which, in the book, was essential to the character's makeup. No, such complexities--along with considerations of the hard-working miners whose back-breaking labors support the Chatterleys--are beyond Ferran's ken, who has cast a gentle bear of an actor who looks and behaves more like a banker in his shirt and tie than the elemental man of nature Lawrence put at the center of his tale.
Winsome pictures of budding flowers, leafy bowers and radiant sunshine are what Ferran is most concerned with here, the better to frame Hands, who is nothing more than a delicately lovely blank. In the book, Lawrence's Constance, as she putters aimlessly about her estate, has a febrile, ever-dissatisfied mind which nearly goes mad from entitled boredom; in the film, one barely believes a single thought ever clouds Hands' porcelain brow. The director even gives short shrift to poor Clifford, more impotent than he was in the novel, now divested of his one big scene when he furiously learns about his wife's choice of lover.
The film's denouement is a hurried, clumsy affair, as if, once out of the enchanted forest where Constance and Parkin commingle, Ferran lost all interest. She suddenly uses maladroit narration and tricky editing (cadged from Truffaut's Jules and Jim) to render Parkin's fate after Constance leaves to travel abroad, and the lady's seaside vacation. The uncertain ending, so different from Lawrence's--which vibrantly reunites the couple, seemingly against the world--is the final coup de grace of falseness.
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