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Noblesse Obliged: Geoffrey O’Brien on Eric Rohmer

THAT ERIC ROHMER, NOW EIGHTY-TWO, should embark on a technically innovative film set during the French Revolution underscores the quiet experimentalism of his filmmaking, an experimentalism sometimes indistinguishable from a return to the earliest cinematic sources. Anyone might have adapted the 1801 memoirs of British aristocrat Grace Dalrymple Elliott, with their account of her troubled friendship with her former lover the duke of Orléans—she a fervent monarchist, he a radicalized aristocrat—and the dangers she experienced during the Revolution; the story, with its succession of escapes and deceptions, trials and imprisonments, does not lack intrinsic excitement. The result in most cases would have been predictable: the sort of subtly modernized emotional drama that indulges the touristic delights of ancient luxuries while carefully flattering contemporary ideas about psychology and

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