A seemingly ideal marriage is thrown into embarrassing turmoil in Patrice Chéreau's period drama, Gabrielle. Based on the short story The Return by Joseph Conrad, the film opens with Jean (Pascal Greggory) extolling the virtues of his… More A seemingly ideal marriage is thrown into embarrassing turmoil in Patrice Chéreau's period drama, Gabrielle. Based on the short story The Return by Joseph Conrad, the film opens with Jean (Pascal Greggory) extolling the virtues of his pretty wife, Gabrielle (Isabelle Huppert), in voice-over as he makes his way home from work. Jean and his wife, with help from their team of servants, have fostered the illusion of a perfect bourgeois household. Jean is particularly happy with the way Gabrielle presents herself at the couple's frequent dinner gatherings, attended by their "set," whom, as he describes them, "fear emotion and failure more than war." We see glimpses of these occasions in flashback, while Jean explains of his wife, "I'm proud of what she is -- impassive." The secure little world he's fashioned for himself is shattered when he arrives home and finds a note from Gabrielle, explaining that she's leaving him. "It's terrible, and right," the missive states. After a brief explosion of rage, Jean tries to compose himself, but he's thrown into chaos again when Gabrielle unexpectedly returns home. She finds it impossible to speak to Jean. "This letter is not the worst of it?" he asks her. "The worst is my coming back," she explains. The two struggle bitterly to regain the balance in their relationship. Soon, in the interest of appearances, another dinner party is planned. Gabrielle, switches from black-and-white to color and back from scene to scene, and is also notable for its intriguing use of intertitles. It was adapted by Chéreau and his frequent collaborator, Anne-Louise Trividic, and was shown at the 2005 New York Film Festival, presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center.
Consensus: Patrice Chéreau's exquisite rendering of Joseph Conrad's The Return brings underlying passions to surface in a long-suffering marriage.