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Critics' Picks 

Run don’t walk to these six AFI Fest musts

Wednesday, Oct 31 2007

THE DUCHESS OF LANGEAIS (France) This exquisite new film by the ever-youthful Jacques Rivette (who turned 79 this year) adapts the titular Balzac novella about the tempestuous affair between a married 19th-century duchess (Jeanne Balibar) and the brusque war hero (Guillaume Depardieu) who has survived a perilous African campaign only to fall victim to passions of which he scarcely knew he was capable. Although more conventional in its narrative structure and running time (a mere two hours and 15 minutes) than such legendary Rivette opuses as Celine and Julie Go Boating and Out 1, The Duchess of Langeais nevertheless stands as a considered rumination on two of the director’s eternal themes: unrequited love, and the tension between life and theater. Here the characters aren’t literally actors, but as a curtain closes violently on one scene and parts on another, it’s clear that for Rivette all the world is a stage and those of us upon it are but marionettes in the grip of our desires. That is especially true of Balibar, whose heartbreaking performance pivots from womanly decorum to girlish ardor and whose every nuanced gesture belies the terrible longing she doesn’t allow to pass her tightly pursed lips. (Wed., Nov. 7, 6:45 p.m.; Fri., Nov. 9, 3:45 p.m.) (Scott Foundas)

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