30 OCTOBER 1976, Page 27


Sex parable

Clancy Sigal

The way Eric Rohmer has shot Die Marquise von 0. . (Gala, A certificate) implores us to look beneath its stunningly photographed surface for 'moral' implications. Because tfl uncertain of exactly what Rohmer is saying, let me describe the tale he has taken from a short novel by Heinrich von Kleist. In 1799, the Russians invade northern Italy. The Marquise, a lovely young widow, lives with her father, who commands an outpost overrun by the Cossacks. 'Count F, a brooding, impetuous young Russian officer, rescues the Marquise from being raped by his troops. Later, we see the Count watching her while she lies invitingly in a drugged sleep. After the battle, the Count surprises the Marquise's family by asking for her hand in marriage. As is the custom, no one bothers to ask the Marquise herself. Her father, though grateful to Count F for saving his daughter's honour, cautiously advises the Russian to go away and give them time to think about it.

Meanwhile, she learns she is pregnant— t by whom? And when did it happen ? he family rejecting her tearful claims of innocence, disown the Marquise who defitntly places an ad in the local newspaper °egging the unknown father of her child to Step forward. To her astonishment—but not 011ts—the Russian count presents himself, still insisting on marriage. Though she now recoils from him, her father pushes her into the marriage on the basis of a half-promise site had made to the Count. The Marquise, tileo, becomes a mere function of how each 1a,n regards his own honour. At first, she uses to sleep with the Count. But after the oirth of their son they are joyfully reconciled. And 'a long line of young Russians f°110w the first born. . have not read the Kleist story (which a,PPears to be virtually unobtainable in London), but Rohmer's film has the look of a strict, almost pure translation. In the style °f a David or Ingres painting, it is magnific,entlY photographed by Nestor Almendros ho worked with Rohmer on La Collec neuse and Claire's Knee) in quick-fading tableaux which must roughly correspond to Faragraphs of Kleist. For example, if the tiknking narration talks of a battle, or says ouat the family is moving, the camera lens eens on a soldier shooting a rifle or servants Jagging a sofa down some stairs, and irises rest just as quickly. Most sequences are oth reted to a single, fixed head-on angle. In er words, not only has Rohmer taken Pal Words, to be faithfully 'literary' but he's ni °Pted an almost primitive, silent techOtt,e in keeping with his shamelessly oldspy Silent technique but hardly silent actors. The more-than-competent German cast loudly declaims formal, setpiece exchanges that would be hilariously unacceptable in a more conventionally made film. The actors swoon, sulk, swear on bended knee and renounce with hand on heart in a way that I have not seen since I squirmed through my first Yiddish play on Second Avenue in New York. Florid, arm-waving yet oddly effective, this theatrical convention works perfectly. You may smile at the more melodramatic outbursts and at the plot absurdities so crucial to Kleist's fable. But, if you saw it on BBC 2 last Saturday night, I hope that you enjoyed it as much as I did.

Except for his delightful My Night with Maud, I have never clearly understood where Rohmer wants to take us in his so-called moral tales. Most have seemed to me to be underheated sex parables told elegantly but ending rather limply, even pointlessly. I'm not so sure with Die Marquise von 0 . . . Perhaps wrongly, I took it as a forceful comment on woman-as-object —how a woman denied her natural right to decide her own life will resist with private sexual fantasies, and with sexual behaviour unconsciously calculated to spring her from the family prison. Aside from being beauti ful to look at, Rohmer's film becomes doubly interesting if, from the start, you interpret the Marquise as having trapped the Count into violating her. What is unarguable is Rohmer's mastery of the discreetly erotic: I've rarely seen anything quite as sexy as the single shot of Count F gazing, merely looking, at the sprawled, fully clothed but sleeping figure of the Marquise—she is made to look exactly like Fuseli's painting, 'The Nightmare'.

In Michael Crichton's intriguing Westworld, we left Yul Brynner as an android gunsel stalking the hero through Roman World and Mediaeval World, two of the fantasy playpens in 'Delos', a holiday centre of the near future. For $1000 a day humarl tourists could live out their every caprice, fighting Roman robot-gladiators to the, death or gunning down mechanical Bat Mastersons. In Futurewodd (ABC Shaftesbury, A certificate) Brynner is back again, but only for a moment. The rest of the time we must put up with the ultimate robot, Peter Fonda, as a newsman who suspects that the mad scientists behind Delos are plotting to take over the world. In this witless sequel to its thoughtful, scary predecessor, you end up with two Peter Fondas. Which I call cruel and unusual punishment.

If some bored kids are hanging around your neck this school half-holiday, be sure they don't care what they watch before taking them to Walt Disney's 'comedy', No Deposit, No Return (Odeon general release, U certificate). Otherwise, after seeing this unfunny, plastic rip-off of 0. Henry's short story 'The Ransom of Red Chief'—how kidnapped tykes bully their captors into begging for mercy—they'll kick you in the shins all the way home. And rightly. I most resented the stunt shots, all shoddily done in process. Harold Lloyd, where are you now that we need you ?