Film

‘The Marquise of O’ Returns to Attack Old-World Righteousness

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There was a time when sunny, gabby Eric Rohmer films would appear without fail every year or two, opening at Lincoln Plaza for rapt uptowners, in what seemed to be a rite of New York’s film-culture salad days.

Some of the Rohmers were chilly curveballs, though, like this 1976 adaptation of the Kleist classic, made entirely in West Germany and set during the Napoleonic Wars. Edith Clever is the aristocratic maiden rescued from a soldiers’ gang-rape by Bruno Ganz’s noble count, whose subsequent marriage proposal seems a little rushed until it’s followed by the realization that the marquise is somehow mysteriously pregnant.

Old-school European righteousness gets a flogging, but it’s the distinctive way Rohmer crafted the film — now in a newly restored print — that backlights the emotional/moral crises.

Completely without music, and shot in a flat theatrical style that cinematographer Néstor Almendros still manages to make golden, Marquise is almost ironically uninflected, like a tense game of chess. But soon the no-nonsense two-shots and scarlet-satin self-consciousness let the story build to genuine fireworks. No costume-drama escapism here, just distilled social warfare.

The Marquise of O

Directed by Eric Rohmer

BAMcinématek, August 28–September 3