Picks and Pans Review: The Lady and the Duke

updated 05/20/2002 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/20/2002 01:00AM

Lucy Russell, Jean-Claude Dreyfus

With this true story of an English-woman in Paris and her friendship with the doomed Duke of Orleans, director Eric Rohmer has made a quietly revolutionary film about the French Revolution. Rather than build acres of sets, he commissioned delicate background illustrations of 18th-century Paris, then digitally inserted the actors. The effect is handsomely surreal. It's as if one were to look down at a plate of painted antique china and see it crawling with ants that, on closer inspection, were revealed to be teeny aristocrats chased by teeny rebels with bayonets.

And yet the two-dimensional stillness only heightens the couple's passionate sparring. The lady (Russell, looking like Alicia Silverstone with leonine hair) is resolutely royalist, while the Duke (Dreyfus, as boom-ingly sonorous as a cannon muffled in velvet) plays along with the bloody Jacobins. History has never looked less authentic—or felt more alive. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: A classic

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