Villa Des Roses

Villa Des Roses


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

It might be called the City of Dreams and the Age of Denial - Paris, 1913. The Great War hangs like a thief above lives still foolish enough to trust in destiny. A young widow, Louise Creteur (Julie Delpy), leaves her six-year-old son in the country and comes to the Villa Des Roses to work as a chamber maid.

What appears to be a respectable boarding house, run by an expatriate English couple, Hugh (Timothy West) and Olive (Harriet Walter) Burrell, is, in fact, a crumbling mansion, full of eccentrics and lost souls. Ella (Shirley Henderson), the cook, has an ear and eye on every indiscretion and personal titbit. Her unsympathetic manner hides a generous spirit, wounded by the duplicity of human nature.

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"Don't be too friendly and don't be too helpful," Mrs Burrell tells Louise, afraid of what the male guests might do. She, herself, is carrying on with a whiskered gentleman on a motorcycle, but that's another story, one that Mr B would dearly like to know about.

Dutch director Frank Van Passel has created an ambience that could easily have slipped into sentimental nostalgia, using laughable old fools and sad ladies of wasted years to furnish a star-crossed love affair. Unlike Lasse Hallstrom's sweetened version of French village life in Chocolat, he uses imaginative visual devises to disguise a limited budget and allows emotion to leak through the facade of a strict social order.

Louise's romance with the artist, Richard Grunewald (Shaun Dingwall), has the sting of truth about it. "He's a German, you're a chambermaid, he'll get his rocks off with anything that moves," Ella warns. As the end of innocence looms and a war appears inevitable, she holds tight to what remains of her hopes. Of course, for him it is different. He has his art, he must find money, he opens another bottle, he's a man in a foreign country.

Although a small film, it has fireworks in its heart. The performances, especially Delpy, Henderson and Walter, are exquisite. Paris thrives briefly for Van Passel's camera in a studio where the evocation of a doomed moment in the history of Europe is wonderfully recreated, as work on the spanking new Metro makes the Villa Des Roses shake to its foundations.

"Life is a shipwreck," Louise says.

And so it seems.

Reviewed on: 09 Oct 2002
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Julie Delpy comes to Paris in 1913 to work as chambermaid in eccentric boarding house.
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Director: Frank Van Passel

Writer: Christophe Dirickx, based on the novel by Willem Elsschot

Starring: Julie Delpy, Shaun Dingwall, Shirley Henderson, Harriet Walter, Timothy West, Frank Vercruyssen

Year: 2002

Runtime: 114 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: Belgium/Holland/Luxembourg/UK


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