Eric Rohmer adapts with "book in hand," though, visually, the pregnant and banished frau isn’t Kleist’s noblewoman but Murnau’s Gretchen (Faust). "Suddenly, the war..." The family chateau is stormed and the Marquise (Edith Clever) is assaulted by Russian soldiers and rescued by the Count (Bruno Ganz), first seen heroically lit with Napoleonic locks flowing. The "dishonorable act" that moves savior into ravisher takes place as a discreet memory of Fuseli, or the aftereffect of poppy-seed slumber. Morpheus is jokingly credited for the heroine’s morning queasiness ("Maybe you’ll give birth to a fantasy"), a bulging belly is harder to explain. The young widow who had sworn faithfulness to her late husband finds herself with child, her parents (Edda Seippel and Peter Lühr) cannot accept her innocence: Father quells a family squabble by firing a pistol into the air and then has to fan the fainting Mother (the staging is pure Molière), the Marquise takes her leave. Set in another country and in another century, but a Moral Tale nevertheless -- gestures delineated with a gallant scalpel, decisions that can "defy the whole world," the glow of faces caught between control and abandon. Above all, a sensuous cinematic state independent of the faithfully recited text. Rohmer’s blend of ascetic formalism and emotional flares is in its way as wondrous as Barry Lyndon’s, keyed to Nestor Almendros’s study of Romanticism: Friedrich amber, Overbeck contours, Runge verdure. The Marquise’s newspaper ad reveals the culprit, his trajectory from "angel" to "devil" is consummated (at the wedding, the bride’s eyes are on the spiraling cherub in the fresco behind the altar). The first of Rohmer’s profoundly strange excursions into the past -- Perceval le Gallois envisions a medieval Dr. Caligari, The Lady and the Duke bridges Jacobin depredations and those of digital cinema, The Romance of Astrea and Celadon travels to the fifth-century to rediscover natural sunlight. With Otto Sander, Eduard Linkers, Ruth Drexel, and Bernhard Frey.
--- Fernando F. Croce