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Summary

Chantal Akerman’s insinuating chamber drama distills the romantic pathologies of suspicion and control with remarkable precision. Based on the fifth volume Proust’s IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME, LA CAPTIVE treats the novel’s fetishized structures of detail and time as symptoms of a slow spreading sickness. The film opens with Simon (Stanislas Merhar), an idyll and comfortable writer, watching home movies of a group of women frolicking on the beach. Among them is his lover Ariane (Sylvie Testud). The architecture of this scene, with Simon at once possessing the woman’s image and yet still hungering for its hidden significance, sets the stage for his dissolute pursuit of absolute knowledge. A methodical pursuit through the streets of Paris is borrowed from VERTIGO, but Simon has reached a more advanced stage of voyeurism. He keeps Ariane in a small room in the stale apartment he shares with his grandmother; the young woman waits his call and holds herself lifeless for his embrace. But there’s an intractable problem with the arrangement: Ariane’s distant passivity facilitates Simon’s control, but it also inflames his lingering suspicion that she remains “elsewhere,” a wound formally realized in Akerman’s captivating mastery of offscreen space. The film’s philosophical evaluation of the limits of control is as much a matter of composition as dialogue, with the lovers’ elaborately ritualized intimacy depicted in obstinate long takes. Akerman’s objective cognition of the doubts and desires underlying Simon’s passive aggressive behavior makes LA CAPTIVE an unusually acute psychological study with formal elements perfectly calibrated to realize an incurable remainder of despair.

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