courtesy Seville Pictures

A Lady of questionable virtue

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Historically, foreign films are notorious for two things: tedium and nudity. Pascale Ferran's French-language adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's John Thomas and Lady Jane--later polished into the famed Lady Chatterley's Lover--is a prime example of both.

Those familiar with the later version of Lawrence's work will also be vaguely familiar with the story: Constance (the titular Lady Chatterley) is a dutiful wife who suddenly finds herself with little purpose when her husband Clifford comes back from a war paralyzed and impotent. She does her best to find things to do with her time, which eventually includes falling in bed--and in love--with the property's gamekeeper, Parkin.

The acting is uniformly superb--particularly Marina Hands as the title character--and the film is gorgeously shot by Julien Hirsch. Unfortunately, it seems as if Ferran fell in love with Hirsch's shots throughout the film because he never cuts any of them. At all. The film clocks in at just under three hours and features numerous shots and scenes that beg to be edited out. The director allows the film to indulge itself, showing Constance traipsing around the forest for the first 45 minutes. There is no pay-off to these 45 minutes of frolicking. In fact, throughout the film the director allows shots to linger and puts cuts in strange, seemingly arbitrary places. What results is a film that floats around merrily for literally hours on end, looking for a plot that never actually materializes. One wonders why this film has two credited editors when nobody did any editing.

A lengthy sequence involving Constance on vacation begs to be cut. Worst of all, important things occur at her home during her vacation that would've provided some actual plot to the film. The audience is informed of these events in the most riveting manner possible: letters from home. Indeed, the only interesting things that occur in the film are told to the audience via voiceover narration while Constance reads letters from home. After 145 boring minutes of talking and long scenes filled with nothing, we're merely told off-hand about interesting things happening.

In addition, Constance's husband merely sits in a wheelchair and moans about things. He isn't developed as a character at all until well into the second hour, where there's a surprisingly touching scene with a motorized wheelchair that continues to malfunction, the obvious parallel made between his useless legs and the useless chair. The fact that the audience spends much more time getting to know Constance's lover more than her husband means they're made to care a lot more about their relationship. In a film about adultery, it seems fairly key to place some kind of importance on marriages, otherwise there is absolutely no tension in the film. Compared with other recent films involving adultery, like Match Point, Chatterley under-develops that aspect of the story. In particular, Constance's motivations are never really explored beyond the superficial. Is she lonely? Does she still love her husband? Does she just enjoy getting naked? Nothing is ever answered in any depth.

There are two main reasons to watch Lady Chatterley: If you enjoy nudity or you enjoy being bored. The nakedness is distributed throughout the film in a manner similar to the also-lengthy Titanic--it's there to shock the audience out of its slumber. However, Titanic had gunplay, Billy Zane and a giant sinking boat. Lady Chatterley has frolicking, subtitles and long scenes full of dead silence. For those with chronic insomnia, though, Lady Chatterley provides an excellent respite.