Saturday, December 1, 2007

Lady Chatterly's Lover

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) -
Between the end of the "Chatterley" ban
And The Beatles' first LP.

Philip Larkin

"Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We've got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen."

D H Lawrence. Opening lines of the book.

Pascale Ferran potently captures the earthy carnality of D.H. Lawrence’s story of lovers who cross class lines. Lawrence was one of the first writers to posit that sexuality is powerful, transformative and integral to human nature, and consequently his work was banned. Of course, our contemporary cultural life is filled with sexual images and his ideas don’t seem transgressive anymore, but Lawrence’s work is still revelatory and Ferran, with the help of extraordinary performances by Marina Hands as Constance Chatterley, and Jean-Louis Coulloc’h as Oliver Parkin, the gamekeeper, fashions an exquisitely sensual love story full of passion and humanity.

Printed privately in Florence in 1928, it was not printed in the United Kingdom until 1960. Lawrence considered calling this book Tenderness at one time and made significant alterations to the original manuscript in order to make it palatable to readers. It has been published in three different versions.

The publication of the book caused a scandal due to its explicit sex scenes, including previously banned four-letter words, and perhaps particularly because the lovers were a working-class male and an aristocratic female.

The story is said to have originated from events in Lawrence's own unhappy domestic life, and he took inspiration for the settings of the book from Ilkeston in Derbyshire where he lived for a while. According to some critics the fling of Lady Ottoline Morrell with "Tiger", a young stonemason who came to carve plinths for her garden statues also influenced the story

CRITIQUE. Lady Chatterley by Pascale Ferran

Translated by Sally Shafto

nd when she surmounted the barrier, the daffodils came out to bloom... When Constance Chatterley left the Wragby manor and pushed the little door in the depths of the garden to meet Parkin, it may be that an insert of moss precedes her in her walk to the forest. It also happens that the young woman between two trysts dreams of flowers, coming undone one by one against black. Elsewhere, a rug of dead leaves greets one of her embraces with Parkin, then this report by the game-keeper, who expressing it is the first to be astonished: we had an orgasm together, this time. Or a shower falls under a beautiful light, its drops striping the two bodies that hunt each other nude between the trees. Coming back to dry themselves in the cabin, the lovers are still however amidst nature, unless it is nature that is amidst them, since now they decorate each other with daisies in many places, on the sexual organs, the hips, the belly button, and they coif each other with a crown of greenery. Then it’s the end. Seated side by side under a tree, they have a long exchange that a last word is going to leave unfinished and open: “Yes.”
Jean-Michel Frodon reminds us in his editorial that Pascal Ferran has not shot for the cinema in thirteen years and Petits arrangements avec les morts - despite its theatrical release in 1996, L’Age des possibles was originally destined only for television. Yes, it is what the film ultimately announces, as if to say that all these years have given way to neither patience nor acquiescence to what is. Or perhaps it is the inverse, perhaps the filmmaker has acquired this kind of peace only by the force of waiting and after giving up on several projects, of which one at least has kept the promise of its title: Lightning Conductor. It’s irrelevant. The evidence is there, the dazzling success of Pascale Ferran’s current adaptation of the second (but not definitive) version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover that David Herbert Lawrence wrote in 1927, less than three years before his death. Gentle, very gentle.
Calm, very calm. Whether in the forest where the cabin with the floral motifs is, or in the shawl or in an embroidery, nature’s omnipresence is here not a lyrical element in the grandiose manner of Malick’s New World (reconsidered in this issue, thanks to its appearance on DVD-see page 95). Just the opposite: sober, very sober. Nonetheless, a song of nature definitely accompanies the lovers in Lady Chatterley. But it is certainly not in the sense of a reminder to a superior order, still less of a metapohorical spring or winter: sun when love shines, storm when it clouds over...

It is much more direct. Pascale Ferran’s direction affirms in equal proportions nature’s autonomy and participation: here is the arbitrary of the editing put back into things and desire with it. When Constance and Parkin make love, nature is sometime in front, sometimes behind them, above then below; ahead or behind, at bottom and in the form. If its sign is constantly welcoming, the modality of its presence is thus not stable: it does not cease varying its scales and distances, just like the image of Parkin attending to his toilette remains present in Constance’s thought while, abruptly confronted to the shock of a bare back, she flees, on the run. Nature is there, like the lovers, like them fickle and equal to herself: nature’s cycle marries and punctuates the narration, but its permanence expresses something else. What nature has is nothing other than this shot of variable immanence of desire theorized by Deleuze, whose name is here suggested on more than one account: because he was a careful and passionate reader of Lawrence, because Ferran cites a formula that he was fond of (“to love without taking one’s bearings”), and because the filmmaker entrusted to Fanny and Julien, respectively the wife and son of the philosopher, the translation of the original dialogues.
It is probable that Lady Chatterley-the film may undergo a fate comparable to that of the novel. The same but backwards. Eighty years ago, Lawrence was anxious to prevent misinterpretations in specifying that he had not written a “sex novel,” that his undertaking was in no way the exaltation of bucolic and torrid loves in industrial England of the 1920s. Nothing to do then with the image of soft porn by the fireside that has come down to us, and because of which we no longer read Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The novel aimed elsewhere: the conquest of an eroticism that is not cut off from the rest of life, the adaptation of an awareness in first physical realities, the re-connecting of body and mind. “I want that men and women are able to imagine sexual things fully, completely, honestly and decently.” Because she realizes such a program in a film freed from all negative affect in the treatment of sexual scenes, Pascale Ferran risks being praised for what she didn’t want: making a cinema of bodies. The body- the last rampart, the last real-has been the leitmotif of the past decade. We must therefore listen to the filmmaker when she declares having made a film at odds with the times, that is to say separate from the two ordinary representations of desire in the cinema. There is a very old model: let us be done with it, violins, slow and blurred. And a more recent model: desire like an animal pulsion. Indeed, Lady Chatterley shows something else in the course of the six scenes of physical love between Parkin and Connie. We may propose an approximation of it via a word with which Lawrence wished to title his novel, in order to cut short all ambiguity: tenderness. But what is tenderness? On the scale of the entire film, it is conceived rather easily: what could have been a melodrama-love against society-is here not a genre, just an affirmation of life. Connie comes and goes between the cabin and the manor, between Parkin and her husband Clifford who is half-paralyzed since the Great War, but these comings and goings create neither opposition nor drama. Fluid, very fluid. Between two meetings there is just the time to allow to resonate in itself the preceding, and the insinuation is useless, when a rare voice-over points out that that evening Connie was a perfect, self-effacing spouse, knowing how to conceal her intelligence: the enchantment of the afternoon simply made her pensive. Constance’s husband owns mines; Parkin is the gamekeeper on his estate. And the tenderness of the lovers is inseparable from the embarrassment straightaway introduced by their difference in class. This embarrassment will not go away: it is understand in the alternation of the familiar (“tu”) and formal (“vous”) forms of address, it is registered in a thousand discretions, a thousand cares, it overflows abruptly in a gruff hesitation of Parkin, in a hesitation of Connie. The morning after their first embrace, he asks her if she doesn’t regret it, if she doesn’t think she has betrayed her rank in making out with a servant. And you, in going with a woman like me? No, they answer one after the other. No regret, but still a little confusion, and this is paramount, both a reserve towards and the utmost respect for the other.
Embarrassment of love: each one is both sovereign and subjugated. It is this paradox that Pascale Ferran grasps in filming in the simplest way the sex scenes, and in attaching less to the act itself than to all that rustles around it, to the astonishment that it is for those who achieve it. Loving each other, Constance and Parkin are going to know a new life; they are going to at last become subjects. She is going to free herself from her hardly enviable position of guardian of the sick; he is going to assume his refusal to go to the factory or to the factory, and this sensitivity which makes him tell his mother that his character was more that of a woman than a man. But they do not become subjects in throwing their bodies and all their being in an embrace; rather, in being thrown outside of themselves, full of fear and desire for what they feel. For example, the man asks the woman: do you like touching me as much as I like touching you?
Two films this year knew how to reconsider the couple as the center of modern cinema. Nobuhiro Suwa made his Couple parfait in the superimposition of Voyage to Italy: each film is as much the memory of another film as each couple the memory of itself, the memory of all couples. Ferran is more modest or more detached: except for a quote from Truffaut, she has not inscribed her film in any particular lineage, and she freely varies the means of direction, using the zoom like the voice-over (that she reads herself), the insert like the sequence shot. It’s because her object is the present, but a present that would not know how to be pure. To make love, without plotting one’s position is not to advance with one’s head bowed, but to hold onto the tip of question which is both what makes advance and the restlessness of this advance.
Un couple parfait and Lady Chatterley agree on at least one point: the obscenity of making a film on a couple can only be overcome if the light of the film is first of all that in which this couple looks at each other-forms itself in coming simultaneously to the image and to its own look. Suwa and Caroline Champetier situated Bruno Todeschini and Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi in the half-light of HD: a defect in the image thus protected the couple on the verge of breaking up, offering it a kind of respite: Pascale Ferran places her characters in a brighter light. She recovers perhaps better thanks to the actors: to the gentle courage of Marina Hands, to the virile awkwardness of Jean-Louis Coulloc’h, whose first role this is in the cinema. Above all, she invokes around them a multiplicity of feverishness, an intimate barely heard conversation that is like the suggested intensification of each moment, the identity of the sentiment and the thought that accompanies it: because that makes a film, a love story.

France, 2006
Direction: Pascale Ferran
Script: P. Ferran and Roger Bohbot, after Lady Chatterley et l’homme des bois by D.H. Lawrence (Paris: Gallimard, 1977)
Dialogues: P. Ferran, Pierre Trividic and R. Bohbot
Image: Julien Hirsch
Sound: Jean-Jacques Ferran
Editing: Mathilde Muyard and Yann Dedet
Music: Béatrice Thiret
Actors: Marina Hands, Jean-Louis Coulloc’h, Hippolyte Girardot, Hélène Alexandridis, Hélène Fillières
Production: Maïa Films
Distribution: Ad Vitam
Length: 2 h 38 min.
Release: November 1st

Now "Lady Chatterley's Lover," a story of shattered lives and rebirth, has been made into a film by Pascale Ferran, one of France's most gifted directors. Today, raw language and graphic sex no longer shock, nor do wars that leave young people maimed. Ferran, who doesn't speak English, has done a work of excavation, to plumb the sensual experience at the heart of the writer's vast landscape.

James Joyce called it "Lady Chatterbox's Lover"; T.S. Eliot described the novel as "sick." The scandal of "Lady Chatterley's," banned in England and America, is famous, yet who really remembers why: Was it because of the lover, a gamekeeper? The real scandal came from the raw Anglo-Saxon vocabulary, and erotic scenes portrayed as love that transforms.

In D.H. Lawrence's ultimate work, the novel he wrote and rewrote in a white heat against his times, Sir Clifford, a crippled veteran of World War I, lives surrounded by servants and a community of coal miners, while his young wife wastes away at his side. The gamekeeper is an independent fellow who prefers life in the woods to mining.

Lawrence never saw "Lady Chatterley's Lover" published in English, for he died of tuberculosis in the south of France at age 45, two years after finishing his last version. Grove Press published the unexpurgated final version in 1959, after a tussle with the postmaster of New York, who declared it obscene literature; a year later, Penguin brought the book out in England

The novel, reviled and ridiculed as a boring tirade about the class system, rife with testy preaching about the joys of sex, can be perceived today as a modern romance with a genuine heroine - a woman of the upper classes, as was Frieda Lawrence - and a working- class hero who resembles the writer himself. Above all, it is about the dynamics of a love relationship.

"Lawrence wrote the book three times," Ferran points out. "When I read the last version published by Gallimard, I found it wordy and dated. Then, I fell on the second version, known as 'Lady Chatterley et l'Homme des Bois'" - published as "John Thomas and Lady Jane" in English - "I was elated." If Lawrence could rewrite, so might Ferran take some liberties: "It was as if he said, 'Go for it. Do it the way you want.'"

Produced by Arte, the French-German network, the film - which opens in France on Wednesday and stars Marina Hands as Constance Chatterley, Jean-Louis Coulloc'h as the gamekeeper, and Hippolyte Girardot as Sir Clifford - may disconcert those who go for the whiff of scandal, for there is neither smut nor violence.

Ferran is not the kind of filmmaker to be interested in scandal, but rather one to put her ear to the ground to feel the vibrations. Her film pulsates quietly with outdoor sounds. "Sound matters," the director says, "and I love sound mixing. I wanted to capture the sounds of nature, the sensuality." Seasons change outside the gamekeeper's cottage as Constance falls in love, and Sir Clifford is taken over - and strangely revived - by Mrs. Bolton, his caretaker. "I like the way Constance's story turns into a kind of fever that spreads - everybody is infected," Ferran says.

The director, who lives in what used to be the shabby area in Paris around the République, now something of an artists' neighborhood, does much of her writing in a local café. A modest, intense woman in her 40s, she is considered a beacon among filmmakers like Arnaud Desplechin and Eric Rochant, who graduated from Idhec, the French film school (now Fémis), with her, and made their first films before the turn of the century.

"Film school was a decisive period," she says. "We were all extremely young and tried our hand at everything - we wrote, shot, and played all the parts; we made our shorts together, vied with each other, and admired each other."

The director is famous for a single work, "Petits Arrangements avec les Morts," (1994), which won the Caméra d'Or at Cannes, the story of a family haunted by mourning.

She approached "Lady Chatterley" on tiptoe. "First I worked alone, in tête à tête with Lawrence." Then, the writer Roger Bohbot joined her on the screenplay, and Pierre Trividic, an old friend and collaborator, came to work on the dialogues. And finally, because the dialogues still felt awkward, Fanny and Julien Deleuze retranslated them. "Sometimes you have to get away from the original - and from the translation too," Ferran says.

It was an elaborate process, with a shooting schedule that went from February through July, to capture the change of seasons.

"I always felt that 'Lady Chatterley' could be a light project," she says. "I had a colossal one just before, that collapsed."

She planned the intimate scenes, with the lovers lolling about naked, with minute attention, and worked with a small crew. "We had to loosen the actors up so they could feel free, because these scenes are made not only of their sensations, but of what is going on in their heads."

For Constance rebels from her husband's domination to enter another kind of struggle with her lover: They are locked for a while in a blind battle of wills. Constance goes off to France on vacation, where she is supposed to find someone of her social class to give Clifford an heir; instead she realizes she is in love with the gamekeeper, and pregnant with his child. She prepares to leave her husband and make a new life with him.

"You feel naked yourself when you make a movie like this," Ferran says. "I hope that audiences respond to 'Lady Chatterley' as if it's a film that talks about them, about their lives. This is what I hope every time I make a movie."

There have not been that many times. After her first success, Ferran went on to make "L'Age des Possibles" (1995), about young hopefuls in Strasbourg, with a marvelous cast. But, although she has taught at Fémis and collaborated on others' projects, she has not come out with a film of her own.

"I am not that interested in working regularly," she says. "I care about each project and give it everything. Of course, this film matters immensely. I want, and need it to work.

"In France, filmmakers with interesting projects have a hard time these days. I know young directors who have trouble getting their first films made, and producers don't propose subjects to directors like myself. So, people may have the impression that creativity is at a low ebb, but there's actually a lot of talent out there."

If "Petits Arrangements avec les Morts" focused on a family in mourning, could "Lady Chatterley" be called a film about renaissance?

"I felt joyous while making this film. But I also think that, as Lawrence said, ours is a tragic age, and that death - tragedy - is never far away, which is why we should love life. 'Lady Chatterley' is a declaration of joy."

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