DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

 
WUTHERING HEIGHTS (HURLEVENT) (director/writer: Jacques Rivette; screenwriters: based on one chapter from the novel Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte/Pascal Bonitzer/Suzanne Schiffman; cinematographer: Renato Berta; editor: Nicole Lubtchansky; music: Pilelentze Pee; cast: Fabienne Babe (Catherine Sevenier), Lucas Belvaux (Roc), Marie Jaoul (Madame Lindon), Louis de Menthon (Monsieur Lindon), Olivier Cruveiller (Guillaume), Sandra Montaigu (Hélène), Alice de Poncheville (Isabel), Philippe Morier-Genoud (Joseph), Olivier Torres (Olivier), Jacques Deleuze (Le médecin), Joseph Schilinger (Le garde-chasse); Runtime: 126; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Martine Marignac; Image Entertainment; 1985-France-in French with English subtitles)

"The most puzzling of all the film versions of Wuthering Heights."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

Jacques Rivette's ("The Gang of Four"/"Va Savoir"/"Celine and Julie Go Boating") dark French version of Emily Bronte's 1847 classic novel is the most puzzling of all the film versions of Wuthering Heights I'm familiar with, that include the 1939 William Wyler, the 1953 Luis Bunuel, the 1970 Robert Fuest, the 1992 Peter Kosminsky and the 2011 Andrea Arnold. It's based only on the Bronte novel's first chapter of a 34-chapter book spanning three generations (1771–1802). The title Hurlevent in French, translates in English to Howling Wind. This static, schematic and stage-like production is written by Rivette, Pascal Bonitzer and Suzanne Schiffman, and it makes its emotionally damaged leads into one-dimensional monsters that deserve little sympathy. The slow-moving story seems to go on forever, with no escape for either viewer or story character. Rivette replaces the implacable Heathcliff with the vengeful teenager Roc (Lucas Belvaux), which will make him the same age he was in the novel. 

The film is set in the sun-drenched Cévennes countryside in the 1930s, instead of the novel's foggy moors of 18th century Yorkshire. The feisty headstrong teenager Catherine (Fabienne Babe) and the handsome teenager farmhand Roc (Lucas Belvaux), an orphan adopted by Catherine's deceased father, show great affection for each other and have a love bond that is greater than being siblings. Catherine's brutish older brother Guillaume (Olivier Cruveiller), the dissolute property owner of the crumbling estate, treats Roc as if he were a useless hired hand and does every mean thing he can to break up the relationship between his sister and Roc. Roc leaves the estate when Catherine uses her feminine wile on her neighbor to try and escape her fate and the orphan decides he can no longer accept such cruel treatment from his adopted family and splits. Roc is filled with vengeance for being mistreated as a socially inferior. When Roc returns three years later as an adult to exact his revenge, he has somehow come into money, cleaned himself up and wears suits. Meanwhile Catherine has married three months ago her young wimpy wealthy neighbor Olivier Lindon (Olivier Torres), who has a close and possible incestuous relationship with his 15-year-old sister Isabel (Alice de Poncheville). Upon Roc's return, the flighty Catherine becomes emotionally distraught and critically ill before dying.

The saintly servant-maid Hélène (Sandra Montaigu), first works for Guillaume and then for Olivier, tries to see the best in everyone. But things become blurred when a boorish Roc savagely torments those he can't let go of and uses Olivier's younger sister Isabel's lust for him as an excuse to treat her like a dog and make the effete Olivier upset. With so much bad energy afoot, the film ends in a nightmare like spell of destruction.

The music is presented by the Bulgarian Woman’s Choir, which contributes to the film's melancholy mood. There are three long dream sequences, at the beginning (Guillaume's oneiric moment in which he witnesses Catherine and Roc kissing by a boundary stone homestead in the rolling hills surrounding their estate), the middle (Catherine dreams that Roc comes to her bedroom to take her away, but falls dead with his arms slit up the middle and his bloody hand prints left on her white nightgown) and the film's last scene (with a sleeping Roc summoned by the ghost-like Catherine from the window of his room, where her arm beckons to him from outside and when she breaks the window pane he reaches for her but she disappears, leaving his hand reaching out the window to clutch at air). The dreams are imaginative attempts to get into the troubled psyches of Guillaume, Roc and Catherine, the protagonists whose lives are doomed because of their inability to know how to love or deal with their psychological failings.

REVIEWED ON 5/9/2012       GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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