The Marquise of O ★★★★½

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Wrote a MUBI piece, excerpted below, which I used as an opportunity to gently, firmly push back against the tendency to view films (or art in general) with blanket woke-ness (though I avoided using that annoying term). One of Rohmer's best, and thus a truly wonderful, miraculous film.

It would be possible to view the film with casual detachment, to use its delicate humor and cool irony as a defense mechanism. One could even go so far as to read the ending—the Count and the Countess in loving embrace—as a sarcastic joke similar to the one that ends Agnès Varda's Le Bonheur, which revisits the film's opening image of familial bliss, but with the man's wife—having been driven to her death by his adultery—now replaced by his mistress. But to do so would be to ignore the film’s emotional locus; it would be to overlook the gravity with which Rohmer treats the very act of living, whether it be in 1800s Italy or then-contemporary France. What results is a bracing mix of visual stylization and psychological realism—literate and composed, but also fraught with ambiguity and roiling emotion; at once ridiculous and sublime; improbable, scandalous and yet entirely plausible. The miracle of The Marquise of O is not an immaculate conception (though that’s floated as a possibility), but that every aspect of the unfolding narrative is accorded genuine weight. The competing social and moral dimensions—the Count's abrupt offer of marriage; the initial assumption of Julietta's guilt; the colonel's banishment of his daughter; the urging of the Marquise’s family to marry the Count—have an emotional immediacy that forces the viewer to reckon with the characters’ humanity first, and their actions second.