Adapted from a Herman Melville novel this strange irritating film follows Pierre a successful novelist who flees his glorious Normandy chateau and his devoted fiancée to live in squalor with Isabelle a gloomy shell-shocked Eastern European with whom he shares a dad. Obsessed with this mysterious stalker Pierre tracks her down and finds that Isabelle is his sister. They flee to Paris become lovers and Pierre begins work on a new book and strives to expose "life's great lie" and to get in touch with his own "hidden life." Sickly and willing to accept Pierre in any arrangement Lucie the fiancée shows up and the three sink further into squalor until Pierre's crazed torment puts them all out of our misery.
Guillaume Depardieu son of Gérard Depardieu never manages to communicate his character's strange attachment to this albatross-of-a-sister and never manages to make his platitudes about dishonesty sound less than foolish. His most arresting feature is his dynamite torso which the director shows off at every possible opportunity. Catherine Deneuve is far better as Marie Pierre's doting mother. Deneuve's sensuality is still alive and well and while she inexplicably calls Pierre "brother " we are disappointed to learn that the sibling incest involves Katerina Golubeva (Isabelle). Golubeva looks and acts like death warmed over leaving no clue as to what Pierre sees in her. Delphine Chuillot is refreshingly understated as the neglected Lucie.
At its worst French cinema is guilty of flamboyant emotion excessive intensity and overblown dialogue. Here we see it in spades. Leos Carax ("The Lovers on the Bridge") delivers more mystery than sense in a film that fails to explain basic plot details and introduces willy-nilly characters who appear and disappear without explanation. While there's some good cinematography and an interesting use of silence Carax even fails to create a decent erotic mood delivering one of the least appealing sex scenes known to cinema. And for all the Sturm und Drang there's precious little authentic emotion.