Children of the Century (1999)

“I want a reminder of last night’s sins.”

The passionate love affair between French writer George Sand (Juliette Binoche) and poet/dramatist Alfred de Musset (Benoit Magimel) epitomized the Romantic Period and scandalized 19th century society. Children of the Century is the story of Sand’s 2 year long affair with de Musset.

Baroness Aurore Dudevant sheds the suffocation of married life on her husband’s estate to further her writing career. Donning male apparel, she heads for Paris and takes the name George Sand. Speaking at a literary salon, George reads an excerpt of her work attacking the lack of male sensitivity towards female pleasure. Most of the listeners are scandalized, but young rake Alfred de Musset is entranced. De Musset, who’s mainly into debauchery, maintains a lively friendship with Sand, but inevitably the two become lovers.

At first, their love affair makes perfect sense–he’s a rake entranced by novelty, and she’s attracted by his passionate nature. While his friends speculate about the relationship, and his family disapproves, Sand and Musset depart for a trip to Italy.

Once in Italy, de Musset’s behaviour towards Sand is appalling. He parties with prostitutes, stays out all night long, and returns looking decidedly haggard. De Musset’s relationship with Sand is strained, but things become even uglier when they both become ill, and Sand employs a handsome, young Italian physician (Stefano Dionisi).

Just how much you enjoy Children of the Century may depend on how much you enjoy Romanticism–Sand’s Grand Passion with de Musset is difficult to understand unless you accept Romanticism–its absence of restraint, belief in self-expression, unbounded, irrational emotion, and the notion that love is essentially difficult, tumultuous, and above all–painful. Sand–a proto feminist takes immense abuse and humiliation from de Musset who rapidly becomes an enfant terrible once his feet land on Italian soil.

The sets and the costumes are spectacular, and the acting superb, but watching over 2 hours of violent break-ups followed by remorse for bad behaviour, momentary penance, culminating in desperate groping is exhausting and can become a bit grating on the nerves. One must, however, realize that these two great literary figures of the Romantic Era explored their liaison to the fullest, and that included high drama, jealous rages, opium binges, and even attempted murder–Children of the Century is worth catching for anyone interested in the period. In French with English subtitles.

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Filed under France, Period Piece

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