In 1975, Eric Rohmer caught the world by surprise by following the series of low-budget, contemporary “Moral Tales” that had established him as a lateblooming master of the French New Wave with The Marquise of O, a German language period piece faithfully adapted from the novella by early nineteenth century author Heinrich von Kleist. Yet upon close inspection, Kleist’s story of forced seduction presents exactly the kind of moral conundrum Rohmer’s present-day Parisians chewed over late into the night. The story deals with the quandary faced by the Marquise of O, a chaste young widow, when she finds herself inexplicably pregnant. Rejected by her aristocratic family, the Marquise places an ad inviting the father to come forward, never suspecting that the gallant Russian count who once saved her from a gang of miscreants might have a hand in her condition. The Marquise of O stands both as one of cinema’s greatest literary adaptations and one of its most pleasingly convincing period pieces, in no small part thanks to the magnificent naturalistic lighting of cinematographer Nestor Almendros and the superbly detailed performances of an ensemble of Germany’s best theater actors led by the radiant Edith Clever. While the film is faithful to the cool detachment of Kleist’s prose, keeping the viewer hovering between mirth and outrage, its moral ambiguity is certain to spark heated debate.
Eric Rohmer, from the eponym short story by Heinrich von Kleist
France, Germany, 1976
$350 Blu-ray and DVD