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Mostly About The Brontë Brother: Three Legendary Actresses Headline This French Film From 1979
on July 19, 2013
One of the most significant post-New Wave French filmmakers has been André Téchiné. I've been a huge supporter of his work for several decades now with some of my favorites being 1985's "Rendez-vous," 1994's "Wild Reeds," 2009's "The Girl on the Train" and even 2011's "Unforgettable." I was somewhat surprised, therefore, that I was completely oblivious of his 1979 work "The Brontë Sisters." There is no denying the enduring fascination with the Brontë clan. Who wouldn't want more insight into the family that created these literary giants? But when you cast the fantastic trio of Isabelle Adjani, Isabelle Huppert, and Marie-France Pisier, the film takes on a whole new dimension. What a cast! I was absolutely thrilled to get my hands on this film to see what I had been missing. In this day and age, I'd watch any project that starred just one of these ladies. Putting them together, however, seems an abundance of riches. But for all the star power in his leading ladies, Téchiné seems a bit more focused on their brother Branwell (a terrific Pascal Greggory).
Well made, if largely aloof, "The Brontë Sisters" becomes somewhat of a mixed bag for me. I absolutely loved Greggory and the tale of Branwell. While his arc was certainly vital in relationship to his sisters, I really didn't feel any substantial closeness or even clarity to the women. This biographical drama follows the siblings from an approximate period of 1842 to 1854, from a reclusive upbringing to where the women became publishing phenomena by putting out major works using male pseudonyms. Pisier plays Charlotte (Jane Eyre), Adjani is Emily (Wuthering Heights), and Huppert embodies Anne (Agnes Grey). Charlotte wants to break away from the confines of their limited existence and Anne is devoted to family (specifically Branwell). Emily, however, remains more of an enigma. Solitary and introspective, Adjani spends much screen time silently staring off into space. Despite their differences and escapades into the world, they eventually reunite over the drama of their brother's tumultuous life.
The movie never really goes too deeply into the writing of the novels. We see tiny bits of the artistic process, but this is overshadowed by real life and romantic disillusionment. As I mentioned, the only character that the screenplay fully connects with on an emotional level (at least for me) is Branwell. The sisters certainly didn't lead exciting lives, so the movie has a deliberateness of pacing that might not be for everyone. Still, it is dark and realistic. Pisier gives a full bodied and impassioned performance as Charlotte, while a very young Huppert is quite sympathetic as Anne. But what I'll remember most is Pascal Greggory. He does a tremendous job with a tragic figure. I went into "The Brontë Sisters" expecting to absolutely love it. Instead, I feel like it kept me at an arm's length throughout with a chilly detachment. Although I would recommend it for film enthusiasts, it might not satisfy those looking for fresh perspective of the Brontë sisters. Ultimately, this experience connected more with my head than my heart at about 3 1/2 stars. I'll still round up, though, because of the rarity of seeing such great actresses sharing the screen. KGHarris, 7/13.