Adapted from Joseph Conrad's short story "The Return," GABRIELLE
is a intimate chamber drama about the dissolution of a marriage. Collaborating
on the screenplay with Anne-Louise Trividic, director Patrice Chéreau has
crafted a vehicle for two of France's finest actors: Pascal Greggory and
Isabelle Huppert.

Jean (Greggory) decides to arrive home early one day, so he takes
the train and while walking to his house, ruminates on just how lucky he
is. He's been married for a decade to Gabrielle (Huppert), who is more
of a trophy than a real wife. Their union is a loveless one, but each has
seemingly settled in for the long haul. The couple host weekly dinners
at which the literati engage in witty banter and Jean can admire just
how his wife plays the part of hostess.

Once home, though, Jean discovers that his wife is not there.
He eventually finds a letter addressed to him in which she confesses
that she is leaving him for another man. But shortly thereafter, a veiled
woman dressed in black arrives. It is Gabrielle returning home, not
expecting her husband to be there or to have found her letter. What next
unfolds is several days during which the couple wage psychological warfare,
often in front of the servants. Jean eventually learns the identity of the
man who intrigues his wife -- a man who works for him as a newspaper
editor. When the couple next host one of their dinner parties -- at which
the editor is a guest -- Jean has had enough and makes an ugly scene.

The film works mostly as a two-hander for Greggory and Huppert,
both of whom are superb. The technical credits are well-done, especially
Eric Gauthier's cinematography (which switches from black and white to color)
and Caroline de Vivaise's costumes. The only negative is the bombastic and
operatic score by Fabio Vacchi. In my opinion, it doesn't underscore the
emotions of the scenes, it obliterates them.

Some may find the theatrical stylings of the direction a bit off-putting,
but those willing to spend the time will be rewarded.

                        Rating:                B +
                        MPAA Rating:       None
                        Running time:      90 mins.

                                Viewed at the
IFC Center
©  2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.