Review

Children of the Century Review

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Sep 18, 2002 | 7:30am EDT

Rebellious and daring French aristocrat Sand (Juliette Binoche) already a well-known writer in France in the 1830s clicks with 23-year-old poet and playwright Alfred de Musset (Benoit Magimel) a boy of letters seven years her junior who is the epitome of spoiled immaturity. They first meet when de Musset attends a public reading of her book that scandalously deals with female frigidity and the attraction is immediate. The two privileged rebels forge a friendship that soon turns romantic in spite of palpable signs that de Musset whose mantra is that he needs to behave badly in order to write well is deeply troubled (at the dinner table he uses a fork as a weapon). Rich and prominent the two flee family pressures by escaping to Italy where they hope to continue writing. But even before they reach land de Musset reveals his debauchery aboard ship. In Venice things only get worse. De Musset gives full vent to his fondness for brothels gambling and opium. As his dissipation intensifies he becomes increasingly abusive toward Sand. When he ignores her when she becomes ill the doctor who takes care of her soon becomes her lover--making de Musset crazed and violent with jealousy and prompting him to return to Paris. Yet Sand a victim of another kind of self-destruction allows the affair to pick up again until family interference and de Musset's fateful extremism put an end to the relationship…and the poet-playwright's life.

Binoche and Magimel partners in real life are superb as the two leads. Binoche is convincing as the charmed George Sand and Magimel appropriately reckless and obnoxious as the handsome but sloppy de Musset. Supporting players are all up to the task.

French director Diane Kurys does a fine job of juggling her larger-than-life biographical characters and managing a sweeping production involving actual locations lavish costumes (courtesy Christian Lacroix) and period sets. Kurys manages to extract high drama from her two leads while keeping the goings-on altogether convincing. This is certainly the vet director's best film in several years.

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