Love on the Ground Blu-ray Review: Much Ado About Nothing

This 1984 French drama follows actors rehearsing a play, a time-worn concept of a show within a show dating back to the earliest Hollywood musicals up to modern interpretations such as Drive My Car. The key difference here is that the play is being performed in a stately mansion, with audience members expected to follow the performers from room to room as the story unfolds.

As the movie opens, the lead actresses are wrapping up a play in a home when they’re approached by an audience member named Clemont with an offer to rehearse and participate in a similar play at his estate. He also happens to be the playwright, and since he seems to have the cash to fund his hobby and the girls are looking for their next gig, they accept his employment offer and accommodations at his home.

Jane Birkin and Geraldine Chaplin star as the committed actresses named Emily and Charlotte, characters so devoted to their craft that they think nothing of moving into a stranger’s house for weeks. There’s also a supernatural element at play, as the actresses begin having troubling visions of prior events at the home, with those visions being incorporated into the scenes of the play. A magician named Paul also lives at the estate, and it’s gradually revealed that he and the playwright have some direct knowledge of the origin of the visions.

So we have a creepy, nearly vacant mansion, scary visions, and a sketchy playwright and magician, making this sound like a setup for a horror film. It’s not, but that unsettling feeling keeps us on edge just enough to stay invested in the otherwise fairly mundane proceedings. The bulk of the film is simply the women rehearsing the scenes as they’re being written, getting to know Clemont and Paul, and trying to stave off boredom the rest of the time in their gilded cage.

While Birkin and Chaplin are fine in their roles, there’s little written into their characters to distinguish them from each other, with Birkin’s Emily just a bit more unhinged about the visions. Director Jacques Rivette delights in pulling the curtain back on Clemont’s creative process as he molds his play to his performers, blurring the line between fiction and reality as it’s revealed that the play originates from Clemont’s history. Unfortunately, this cut of Rivette’s film is twice as long as it needs to be, stretching out to a leisurely three hours with little results to show for it. 

The Blu-ray is sourced from a new 4K restoration of the film.The picture is clear of debris and scratches, although fairly grainy due to original film stock. Colors are well defined and more vivid than expected, mostly due to the wild paint patterns splashed on the walls of the mansion. The DTS 2.0 soundtrack is crisp and clear with no noticeable flaws. The only bonus feature is a re-release trailer, although a commentary track is provided by a film professor. 

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Steve Geise

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