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Perils of Pauline

Les Destin

At the edge of a forest, dark-haired and delicate-faced Pauline runs after Marcelle, her heartbroken and slightly homelier friend, to comfort her. Marcelle was abandoned by her suitor. Though Pauline suggests at the beginning of Les Destinées that Marcelle is her dear friend, as the movie progresses, Marcelle is almost never seen or heard from again, with little explanation as to why.

Adjust your mode of expectations to see Les Destinées, the story of Jean Barnery (Charles Berling) and all his cohorts in 1900-1930s France.

Les Destinées follows Jean, a protestant minister who divorces his uptight, depressed wife Nathalie, falls in love with Pauline, the niece of a fellow in the chardonnay business and friend of Jean’s family, who run a great porcelain business in Limoges. After Jean leaves the ministry and marries Pauline, he decides to take over his family’s business because he is the only one capable of doing so. Whew.

This all happens in three hours of shots of gorgeous Renoir-like scenes. Room-swallowing camera sweeps and sun-frosted views blend into a rich visual creme brule.

True to the stereotype of French art films, Les Destinées depends on subtle facial communications and impromptu exchanges on the state of life.

The title (which was one word longer in its original French release) translates as “The Sentimental Destinies,” and suggests “destinations.” However, few of the characters’ outcomes are determined. Sometimes a character comes in with an engaging predicament that makes the Hollywood-bred viewer expect a certain turn in the story (Uncle is leaving the dance because he is clutching his chest and is short of breath? Mon Dieu! This must mean he will be in the hospital later!). Half the time, these insinuations about the characters fall away, leading to no clear conclusion. When a man stalks Pauline at a dance and is never seen or mentioned again it could likely frustrate a viewer whose movie diet relies on stories with neat follow-ups. In Les Destinées, people and situations often drop out of the picture. C’est la vie. For non-francophones, all this may be hard to follow because the white subtitles are sometimes unreadable in the sunniest shots.

Pauline and Jean are the heart of the movie. Their relationship, while somewhat idealized, is quite realistic. They age smoothly as the relationship matures; initial glances lead to an obsessive codependence that turns into distancing and infidelity and ends in close friendship and unconditional understanding. Jean and Pauline provide the moments that are most redeeming when studied closely. Time passes, people’s peccadillos surface and dissolve, and we are left with a sense that things continue.

Les Destinées, Directed by Olivier Assayas, starring Emmanuelle Beart, Charles Berling and Isabelle Huppert runs Oct. 4 – 10 at the U Film Society at 7:15 nightly.
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