Pascale Ferran's Lady Chatterley may well have established a new standard in screen Romanticism, and at least indicates the currency of anti-Enlightenment thinking in our own time, as "John Thomas and Lady Jane" did within D. H. Lawrence's. Indeed, Ferran's film suggests the re-occurrence of this system of thinking not only in the aftermath of the First World War - in which Lady Chatterley's narrative is situated - but also in the 1960s (whose floral and free-love iconography are present) and implicitly again, in our own war-defined present. Perhaps the question becomes whether we have experienced any substantive change since the Second World War, Hiroshima and the Holocaust - at least within the Paris-New York axis - though that may be too much to hang on Ferran.
Rather, in spite of a certain historicity that is most evident in the above symbolic forms and even further in a passage adopting the style of home movies (where the medium's more recent specificity is highlighted - otherwise, with the help a minimal amount of imagination, Lady Chatterley's style almost seems commensurate with its historical situation), Lady Chatterley remains a relatively pure instantiation of the much earlier ethos. Throughout, Ferran emphasizes the narrative's rural setting, figuring both her heroine within the natural landscapes, in the vicinity of the gamekeeper's - her lover's - cabin, and commonly, elements of the environment itself isolated in close-up. Moreover, when finally the eponymous Lady Chatterley (César winning best actress Marina Hands) and the aforementioned Parkin (Jean-Louis Coulloc'h) finally do couple, Ferran manages to impute an incongruity to the garments they wear, in the face of the uncultivated nature. Of course, the pair will soon lose their apparel altogether, culminating in an ism-defining nude chase through an overgrown wood.
In short, Ferran's narrative imitates the conventional return to an animal nature from a constrictive civilization that was de rigueur within Romanticism. Exemplifying the scientific rationalism against Lady Chatterley is positioned, beyond the context of the recently-concluded Great War, is Lady Chatterley's husband Clifford (Hippolyte Girardot), who is not only wheelchair bound but further impotent as a consequence of the combat. In a particularly telling sequence, Clifford, in a new, motor-powered chair, attempts to climb a grassy hill with the assistance of neither his wife nor of the close-by gamekeeper. Unable to make it up the incline, he is assisted by the pair. In this way, not only his sexual inadequacy figured, but, following closely on the heels of a conversation with his wife when the latter advocates socialism, the powerless of the ruling class without the gamekeepers' and more directly, the soot-footed miners who occasionally appear in Ferran's narrative. To put it another way, Lady Chatterley showcases the congruence of left-wing politics and the Romanticism that defines the narrative. Undoubtedly, the critical enthusiasm for Ferran's film, both in France and most recently in New York, is a by-product of this seductive, politically-correct convergence - and again perhaps further confirmation of Romanticism's contemporary salience.
Still, speaking of the narrative, Lady Chatterley is most clearly a work of erotic cinema, though an instantiation with implications for the politics of the personal. During the first act of coitus, Ferran tightly frames her female heroine in close-up, registering her largely intractable expression throughout the act. In this way, Ferran maintains a system of identification that largely sutures Lady Chatterley's perspective by combining frontal framing and inserts of her visual point-of-view, or, as in an opening conversation recounting the horrors of World War I, her mindset via auditory means. At the same time, Ferran does not limit the viewer to the lead's psychology, but figures that of Parkin and those who share the Lady's estate.
Nonetheless, Lady Chatterley is dominated by long shot/long takes, lit by sensitively rendered natural light, which positions Ferran's film as the inheritor to a naturalist tradition in post-nouvelle vague French color cinematography that is perhaps best exemplified by the cinema of Claude Sautet (Nelly & Monsieur Arnaud, 1995) and André Téchiné (Wild Reeds, 1994). Perhaps the film's general suitability to its period follows from that era's proximity to the late 19th century visual tradition that Ferran's camera simulates. Similarly, Lady Chatterley shares in the slower pacing that is characteristic of many films in that tradition - often for the better - though in its case the value of this is perhaps a little less certain with a 168 minute running time that feels not a minute shorter.