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With: Juliette Binoche, Benoît Magimel, Stefano Dionisi, Robin Renucci, Karin Viard, Isabelle Carré, Patrick Chesnais, Arnaud Giovaninetti, Denis Podalydès, Olivier Foubert, Marie-France Mignal, Michel Robin, Ludivine Sagnier, Victoire Thivisol, Julien Léal
Written by: Murray Head, Diane Kurys and Fran�ois-Olivier Rousseau
Directed by: Diane Kurys
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 137
Date: 03/18/2013

Children of the Century (1999)

1 Star (out of 4)

Two Wrongs Don't Make a Writer

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

What a disappointing year for French films. It looked so exciting from the start, but Claire Denis' Trouble Every Day Michael Haneke's The Piano Teacher, Laurent Cantet's Time Out, Eric Rohmer's The Lady and the Duke and Olivier Assayas' Les Destinées all failed to deliver upon their extraordinary promise, though each of those filmmakers had delivered great things in recent years.

Now another clunker opens in Bay Area theaters, and in some ways, it's the most glumly disappointing of all. Children of the Century stars the great Juliette Binoche as author George Sand in a story so aggravating and tedious that it made Binoche's icky, syrupy, brain-dead Chocolat look appealing in comparison.

The main reason Children of the Century fails so badly is because it doesn't care about Sand at all. Born Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin in 1804, Sand was a controversial and influential writer who dressed in men's clothing and took a man's name. (She was also portrayed by Judy Davis in 1991's Impromptu.)

But Children of the Century is more interested in her brief relationship with the idiotic twit Alfred de Musset (Benoit Magimel). He also claims to be an author, but doesn't write much more than a few scribbles during the course of the film.

Most movie romances operate on the basis that two charismatic people who hate each other and fight all the time -- or are kept apart by outside forces -- will fall in love by the final reel. Call it the "Sam and Diane" syndrome, if you will. In Children of the Century, the two lovers are absolutely wrong for each other and hook up immediately. We spend the entire movie hoping and praying that they will break up.

Not only does Alfred act like an arrogant, spoiled jerk all the time, but his antics also keep Sand from getting any writing done, most of all when he tries to drink himself to death and fails. Sand has to sit by his bedside -- not writing -- while their hotel bill spirals ever upward.

This exact same scenario occurred in 1998's wretched Wilde, in which the great Oscar (Stephen Fry) was undone by his annoying lover Bosie (Jude Law). Both movies sent me off in a fury.

It doesn't help that director Diane Kurys (Entre Nous) falls into the usual period-piece trap, taking every little detail way too seriously. This seriousness is shown with a dreary, deadly pacing that you could set your watch by, a pace that every Merchant-Ivory movie uses -- not too fast, not too slow, and never-changing.

When Francois Truffaut stated that he was only interested in movies that expressed the joy of making cinema or the agony of making cinema -- and nothing in-between -- Children of the Century is the kind of in-between film he was talking about.

It goes without saying that Kurys' icy tempo kills any kind of passion or heat one might feel in the romance. Some of the cinema's best sex scenes are borne out of hatred (picture Michelle Pfieffer's Catwoman ripping into Michael Keaton's Batman, for example). But here the love scenes feel more like diagrams on a chalkboard than the real thing.

Still, despite the best efforts of Children of the Century, French cinema refuses to die. Binoche fans would be better off renting two of her best films on DVD: Michael Haneke's Code Unknown and Leos Carax' Mauvais sang (a.k.a. Bad Blood).

Hardly any other actress alive can carry a movie with such a combination of beauty, intelligence and sadness. It's just a shame that Binoche's great films are so few and far between.

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