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Review: Charlotte Gainsbourg is caught between desire and nothingness in ‘Suzanna Andler’

A woman in an animal print coat and boots in the movie “Suzanna Andler.”
Charlotte Gainsbourg in the movie “Suzanna Andler.”
(Christophe Beaucarne / Les Films du Lendemain)

The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials.

French writer-filmmaker Marguerite Duras reveled in the slipperiness of experience when it came to her literate time-and-memory pieces. Benoît Jacquot — who began his career as an assistant director to Duras and later collaborated with her on the recently restored (and streaming) “Le Navire Night” — makes a valiant stab at honoring that difficult tone with his film adaptation of her 1968 stage play “Suzanna Andler.”

Set over the course of a day at a St-Tropez villa boasting a breathtaking ocean view, it’s more accurately situated in the unsettled mind of the wealthy title character, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg with a brittle, timeless melancholy you can see a painter yearning to render. Suzanna off-handedly refers to herself as “the French Riviera’s most cheated-on wife” to the real estate agent showing her the palatial, empty property, which, if she rents it, may just become one more elegant prison.

She does have a lover, a handsome reporter (Niels Schneider), who drops in to gauge her mood, but their affair appears to be at a standstill over her regrets, doubts and questions about the marriage in which she’s trapped. As she visits a friend (Julia Roy) on the beach below, the cagey talk of relationships seems to draw her even further toward indecision.

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As the day grows later, our sense of whom Suzanna is never really deepens because her predicament’s not the kind you easily solve. It’s enough that Gainsbourg is fully in command of her character’s pains and enigmas — blithely chic in a black YSL mini-dress and fur wrap, cigarette ever present — while Jacquot’s camera circles and stares, never exactly inquisitive. That will likely frustrate viewers who want some revelatory catharsis. But it’s also how Jacquot pays tribute to his mentor and friend, by adapting “Suzanna Andler” less as the movie you want than as an intimate walk along that precipice of desire or nothingness.

‘Suzanna Andler’

In French with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes

Playing: Starts Oct. 22, Laemmle Royal, West L.A.


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