Villa des Roses
3 out of 5 stars
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
villa des roses Belgian filmmaker Van Passel goes for a bit of magical realism with this odd adaptation of the classic Dutch novel by Willem Elsschot, originally published in 1913, which is when this story is set. The "villa" of the title is a dilapidated boarding house in Paris where an odd collection of expats live amid the tensions of the impending Great War. The newest arrival is the maid Louise (Delpy) who, after the death of her husband, has left her small son with her parents and gone to the big city to make a living. But she's bewildered by the inhabitants--the eccentric owners (West and Walter) with their pet monkey, a chatty-nosey cook (Henderson), a shy yet sometimes nude houseguest (Vercruyssen), and so on. And then there's the young German (Dingwall), who pursues Louise tenaciously, breaking down her defenses until she's hopelessly in love with him. At which point he must make a decision between poverty-stricken love and a rich young American woman (Barry) who's just arrived.

There's a lot more, as this is one of those films jammed to the brim with colourful characters, each of whom has his or her own little storyline. Not to mention symbolism up the wazoo. But the love story is the core of the film, and the problem is that it's just not believable or compelling. It is quite revealing, however, as it delves uncomfortably close to the reasons we enter relationships to begin with (mostly selfish ones). But the film sits awkwardly on the fence between quirky dark comedy and romantic tragedy. It's neither, really, so the dense and heavily stylized production design, superb camera work and excellent performances all seem to hang on the screen promising much more than the film as a whole delivers. There are also far too many loose ends in the story, characters who appear and disappear without explanation, and a general lack of energy or drive. That said, it's still a fascinating film, weaving the various plot strands with the build-up to the First World War with subtlety and artistry.

cert 12 adult themes and situations, language 30.Aug.02

dir Frank Van Passel
scr Christophe Dirickx
with Julie Delpy, Shaun Dingwall, Shirley Henderson, Timothy West, Harriet Walter, Frank Vercruyssen, Toni Barry, Jan Decleir, Dora van der Groen, Stephane Excoffier, Gary Whelan, Alfredo Pea
release UK 11.Oct.02
02/Belgium-UK 1h59

True love? Richard and Louise (Dingwall and Delpy) in happy times....

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2002 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall

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