It may be the sex that viewers remember in this ooo-la-la French adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's quintessentially British novel Lady Chatterley's Lover. But director Pascale Ferran's Lady Chatterley is as exquisite and memorable for the way it burrows beneath its characters' skin, into the discrete and lonely worlds they occupy. Based on Lawrence's less well-known second draft of the taboo-breaking novel titled John Thomas and Lady Jane, Ferran's sensitive take on lust and transcendence manages to elevate sex to something more than the physical without losing contact with flesh and blood.
In this female director's splendid revitalization and reanimation of a canonic literary text, sex is the initial connecting point between Constance Chatterley (Marina Hands) and Oliver Parkin (Jean-Louis Coullo'ch), but it is a deeper inability to belong in their respective worlds that truly unites them.
With her husband, Clifford (Hippolyte Girardot), wounded in World War I and now confined to a wheelchair, Constance is free to roam the grounds of the Chatterley country estate. Diagnosed with the ladylike malady of listlessness, Constance finds her vitality returned on visits to the rustic wood outbuilding where the estate's gamekeeper Parkin works.
The building becomes an idealized home in miniature, where Constance sets to work avidly planting flowers while Parkin tends to the pheasants. Over time, their rendezvous in the woods grow more intimate. Sex is initiated when Constance reveals her vulnerability – essentially transforming from an emblem of class into a real woman before Parkin's eyes – by weeping over the vulnerability of a tiny newborn pheasant.
Ferran records this first coupling of a ladylike, emotionally reserved British aristocrat and her solidly built, monosyllabic gamekeeper in a way that makes it still shocking even in our own supposedly classless society. Ferran's rendering of a society founded on rigid class lines and the lingering taboo of adultery is authentic enough to make the union as anxiety-inducing as it is sexy.
But the greatest shock in Lady Chatterley may be the way the characters exceed those stereotypes with their progressive, contemporary values; how Constance, informed by Lawrence's feminist sympathies, understands Parkin's need for freedom and sees it as an echo of her own. Brave, passionate and willful, Constance engages in her own desires in a way that is not just contemporary but transcends time and place. Sex with Parkin opens up her world as surely as it does his.
Parkin, poignantly bottled up and prone to wounded pride in Coullo'ch's compelling interpretation, is a child of nature. Frolicking through the woods together or decorating each other's genitalia with flora, Constance and Parkin are positively hippie in the connection they proclaim between earth and spirit. Parkin has managed to resist the world of men defined by the depressing local coal mine (owned by the Chatterleys) and the horrors of war described in a gruesome after-dinner conversation between Clifford and his fellow veterans. Rather than the lingering fondles or the still transgressive glimpse of male nudity onscreen, it is the way Parkin reveals the confines of his own life, and how Constance allows him to exceed them that shocks for its emotional frankness.
If D.H. Lawrence is remembered for writing about sex as a blessed escape from the grim order and dark forces of "polite" society, then The Ten, if it's remembered at all, may be seen as an archetypal expression of the 21st-century trend for purposeless, shock-oriented crudity with no revelatory undercurrent. Like the current Shrek-style kiddie movies that delight in the comic punch line of belching and farting, director/co-writer David Wain's The Ten takes a preteen joy in the shock of prison rape, defecation, casual violence and sex.
Its 10 tales strung together like mediocre "SNL" skits, Wain's comedy is tailor-made to get the Christian Right's panties in a twist. But it is also the kind of flaccid take on the Bible that's difficult for anyone else to defend as either art or comedy. How a project that feels like an ingratiatingly winking, self-satisfied and brain-dead riff on religious law managed to attract otherwise talented actors such as Paul Rudd, Gretchen Mol and Liev Schreiber is a mystery.
In one of the more notorious vignettes, a woman who has encountered her own bad self in the tabloid press (Winona Ryder) falls in lust with a ventriloquist dummy in "Thou Shalt Not Steal." To illustrate "Thou Shalt Not Covet," Liev Schreiber competes with a suburban neighbor in a battle to keep up with the Joneses by inexplicably accumulating the most CAT scan machines.
Counting to 10 has never taken so long. If the film contains any germ of an idea, its vignettes seem weighted to prove how stupidly written-in-stone rules can translate to real – albeit absurd – circumstances. The film is an absurdist thumbed nose at bossy dictates but without cleverness or any deeper commentary to redeem it. Wain's film has all the intellectual heft and subversive protest of bathroom graffiti or mooning, and the commandments in question are just a static, irrelevant ordering device and imposed structure for "The State" writers/director Wain and Ken Marino to riff on.
More than simply unentertaining, The Ten comes from an America of silly, laddish self-regard and hollow protest. A film whose actors undoubtedly fancy themselves brave for tackling the sacred with such bawdy excess, next to the insightful and soul-baring Lady Chatterley it is a depressing reminder of how little depth our culture is willing to plumb.
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