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LADY CHATTERLEY ****

By GUY FLATLEY

 

CAST: Marina Hands, Jean-Louis Coulloc’h, Hippolyte Girardot, Helene Alexandridis, Helene Fillieres

DIRECTOR: Pascale Ferran

SCREENWRITERS: Pascale Ferran and Roger Bohbot

 

 

Could a contemporary filmmaker who is French and female possibly provide a fresh take on “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” the D. H. Lawrence portrait of a secret, scorchingly erotic affair that shocked the socks off staid Brits back in 1928? Mais oui! And that’s precisely what Pascale Ferran has done with this thunderbolt of a movie. Along with co-screenwriter Roger Bohbot, she has explored the psychological depths and carnal splendors of “John Thomas and Lady Jane”--an earlier draft of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” which was not published until 1972--and worked an audacious, exhilarating cinematic miracle.

You’re familiar with the plot, of course: The gracious and beautiful Constance (played here with a subtle blend of strength and vulnerability by Marina Hands) is an aristocrat with a substantial inheritance of her own who has married the even wealthier Clifford Chatterley (Hippolyte Girardot). Sir Clifford owns a mine, keeps a cool distance from his miners, lives elegantly on his lush, tasteful estate and never doubts for a second that he merits his position as a member of England’s ruling class. Like others of that privileged breed, he served his country as an army officer during World War I. And he displayed stiff-upper-lip stoicism about the crippling battle wound that made him sexually impotent and left his young bride a virtual virgin.

Small wonder that Lady Chatterley, who plays nurse to her husband and hostess to his priggish friends at formal dinner parties, becomes ill herself, experiencing extreme lethargy and a persistent sadness she struggles to conceal. Eventually, she takes to her bed and Mrs. Bolton (Helene Alexandridas), a professional nurse, joins the household. Not only does this kind lady perform splendidly for Sir Clifford, but one day she does his wife the favor of a lifetime by urging her to walk through a lovely glade on the estate, past a shimmering lake, and on to a serene field by the gamekeeper’s cottage where she can behold a delicate profusion of early-blossoming spring flowers.

Constance also beholds for the first, though certainly not last, time Oliver Parkin (Jean-Louis Coulloc’h), the gamekeeper her husband refers to as “uncouth.” In truth, Oliver is more timid than rude, a man whose bluntness can give way to tenderness in a mysterious instant. And, as the initially puzzled and then dazzled Lady Chatterley discovers on a subsequent, life-changing visit to the gamekeeper’s cottage, a touch of tenderness at the right moment can build and erupt with volcanic force, spinning ingrained numbness into a frenzy of physical and spiritual liberation.

Rarely, if ever, has the power of sex to link two people--to transform their lives and the way they regard the world around them and to reinvent themselves--been presented on screen with such intelligence, sensuality and vigor. There are a half dozen sex scenes in the film, most of them totally nude and unashamedly graphic, and each of them adding a new dimension to the relationship between Lady Chatterley and her strapping, surprisingly complex lover. The third scene, in which Constance is transported for the first time in her life by the mystical shock of orgasm and then joyfully thanks Oliver for the precious gift, is amazing--because it seems altogether real as opposed to well acted, and because it is poignant, funny and triumphantly pure.

Pascale Ferran has taken huge risks in telling this sex story which grows, without strain or pretense, into a genuinely rewarding love story. She makes you long for Constance and Oliver, her lower-class lover who is actually in a class all his own, to seal their bond and embark on a journey to freedom
. Of course, this is true partly because of Ferran’s leading players. As Lady Chatterley and her body-and-soul mate, Marina Hands and Jean-Louis Coulloc’h are good for the heart. And not at all bad on the eyes.