Who's in It:
Guillaume Depardieu, Jeanne Balibar, Michel Piccoli, Bulle Ogier
The Basics: The Duchess of the title is now a cloistered nun. The General who's obsessed with her spent five years searching for her after her disappearance. The moment he finds her, the action rewinds (no, not like in Vantage Point) to the beginning of their frustrated, unconsummated "romance." It's a French Restoration tragedy of manners that plays out slowly and quietly but with more devastation than in a dozen movies full of people emoting all over the place. And it's the best thing I've seen so far this new year.
What's the Deal? I won't get all high-horsy here and say this is for everyone, if only everyone weren't morons. It's an art film with one foot in the stifling past and one in the detached present. You have to want to sit still very, very still for two and a half hours. You have to know you're going into a tense, dark, melancholy, sometimes strange world where almost everything goes down in boudoirs lit by candles and oil lamps, where entire long drawn-out scenes unfold with dialogue and people whispering urgently about how their doomed romance could cause them to die of sorrow.
Who's Jacques Rivette? Along with guys like Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol and Eric Rohmer, he more or less helped invent the French New Wave in the early 1960s. His films are this weird mix of really forward-moving modern sensibility and film theories and old-school theatricality. Some of them are 12 hours long. And they don't blow up in your face like the cool old Godard movies did, so they were never really "young" in that same way. Consequently, they're not always seen by a lot of people.
What's on Display: The kind of austerity that leaves a lot of people cold.
Where You've Seen the Leads: The distinctive-looking Balibar was in Rivette's 2001 movie Va savoir and the late '90s French film My Sex Life
or How I Got Into an Argument. Meanwhile, Depardieu is Gerard's son and has a million French-film and TV credits, even though he's just in his thirties. In this country, he's most well-known for starring opposite Catherine Deneuve in the everyone-gets-naked-at-least-once freak-out Pola X.