Review: ‘Marguerite & Julien’ is as risky and provocative as its taboo subject matter


“Marguerite & Julien” is an overheated but haunting, strangely involving tale inspired by the doomed romance between real-life aristocratic French siblings circa 1600.

Director Valérie Donzelli, working off a script she wrote with Jérémie Elkaïm (based in part on an unproduced 1973 screenplay by Jean Gruault), uses an eccentric mix of visual styles, tenors, time periods, costumes and music to create a film as risky and provocative as its taboo subject matter.

In just one of many unlikely gambits, the story is told as a kind of grim fairy tale to a group of riveted young orphans. We flash back to the idyllic, cloistered childhood of Marguerite de Ravalet, who shares a deep, often playful bond with her brother, Julien. Years pass and the now-adult Marguerite (Anaïs Demoustier), still living with her parents (Frédéric Pierrot, Aurélia Petit) in the family chateau, has developed an unhealthy — and unspeakable — desire for Julien (Elkaïm), so much so that she and her equally smitten brother become local pariahs.


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A loveless marriage follows for Marguerite with an older tax collector (Raoul Fernandez), who resides in relative comfort with his dark-hearted mother (Geraldine Chaplin). But when the desperate Marguerite escapes and ends up on the lam with Julien, suffice to say love can’t conquer all.

Although Donzelli and Elkaïm seem to pass less overt judgment on the incestuous lovers than they do on the oppressive society around them, audiences may be hard-pressed to exactly “root” for team De Ravalet. Still, the operatic tragedy of Marguerite and Julien’s plight proves an effectively creepy dramatic engine.


‘Marguerite & Julien’

In French with English subtitles

No rating

Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Royal Theater, West Los Angeles