La Captive (2000)

“I hide nothing–nothing that concerns you.”

Chantal Ackerman’s film La Captive is a story of passion and obsession. Simon (Stanislas Merhar) is a wealthy, reclusive young Parisian who lives with his grandmother and a young woman called Ariane (Sylvie Testud). Ariane, the captive of the title, leads a bizarre life with Simon. She’s certainly not his equal, and she spends her days attending singing and trapeze lessons, and wandering around museums. At night, Simon summons and dismisses her from his bedchamber. While their relationship would almost seem to mirror that of a master and a concubine, on another level, Simon is also obsessively controlling and wildly jealous. When Ariane showers, he watches, and suspecting that she has a secret life apart from him, he constantly questions her–and even sends her friend Andree (Olivia Bonamy) to accompany Ariane on outings. The idea is that Andree will escort Ariane and then report back, but even this doesn’t satisfy Simon’s suspicions. As a result, he begins following both women when they go on excursions together.

Ariane is an amazingly passive character. When Simon’s questions and mental probing become too much, she feigns sleep, but even then Simon still hounds her. She never appears ruffled or impatient with Simon’s constant interrogation. But no matter what she tells him or what she reveals, it’s never enough for Simon. He’s insatiably possessive and he’s quite aware that Ariane is holding back, and this just frustrates him more than ever.

As a study in obsessive jealousy and the need to possess a lover both mentally and physically, La Captive captures the pathology of Simon’s relationship with Ariane. She maintains a citadel of the mind that is impenetrable–even though under constant assault. This dark tale of passion, however, is strangely dispassionate, so that ultimately the story and its characters are rather cold. Passions boil under the surface, but they’re so deep, one wishes for some explosion during the film. There are long, boring sequences of Simon following Ariane by foot and by car, and while the film successfully conveys Ariane’s suffocating existence, it’s difficult to imagine them continuing in this vein without a quarrel or two–or at least some tension. As it is, La Captive–while analyzing the relationship–remains a little too analytical, pretentious and inhuman. La Captive is an adaptation of Proust’s La Prisoniere (from Remembrance of Things Past). In French with subtitles.

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