Marquise of O, The (1976)

An anomaly in Rohmer’s filmography, this beautiful if minimalist period costume drama about a woman who doesn’t know how she got pregnant feels like a stage exercise rather than an embracing, organic work.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,182

Dir. Eric Rohmer
1976 | France/West Germany | Drama | 98 mins | 1.37:1 | German
Not rated – likely to be PG13

Cast: Edith Clever, Bruno Ganz, Edda Seippel
Plot: A German Marquise has to deal with a pregnancy she cannot explain and an infatuated Russian Count.
Awards: Won Grand Jury Prize (Cannes)
International Sales: Les Films du Losange

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

A rare period film adaptation from Eric Rohmer, who was more used to making original contemporaneous tales of love, desire and ennui, The Marquise of O sees him bring to screen Heinrich von Kleist’s 1808 novella about a widow, Marquise, who doesn’t know how she got pregnant, asking that the father come forward in the local newspaper. 

Set in the late 18th century, Marquise (Edith Clever) is the daughter of a German family whose patriarch is a Colonel in the army. 

Saved by a Russian Count (Bruno Ganz) from being gang-raped by Russian soldiers amid a skirmish during the Napoleonic Wars, Marquise owes him deep gratitude but falls short of agreeing immediately to his unexpected marriage proposal. 

Shot by Nestor Almendros mostly in natural lighting, Rohmer’s work is beautiful to look at, though more slowly-paced than some of the auteur’s more talky pieces. 

There is attention to detail in the production design yet it feels spare and minimalist, while the acting all round seems stilted, perhaps intentionally so as Rohmer gives us more of a stage exercise rather than an embracing, organic work. It is easy to identify with the characters’ motives and decisions, but more difficult to care for them emotionally. 

The ending, abrupt as it is, might feel like a cop-out for some, illogical to others, and in today’s MeToo context, undesirable.  Still, for those keen to explore another side of Rohmer, The Marquise of O is definitely worth seeing.

Grade: B



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