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Entries in Huppert (4)

Saturday
Jul182015

La Cérémonie

We will leave an explanation of this film's title to the curious who believe that the Internet could not possibly lie to them. Its translation may indeed shed some light on the plot – that is, if you like your plots brightly lit – yet the English novel on which the film is based is called A Judgement in Stone. And while most movie versions employ a literal translation of the French, German has chosen "Beasts," and Italian, "The Darkness in the Mind." What kind of film could possibly inspire such diverse nomenclature? One most certainly of beasts and judgements, although these labels hang loosely to more than a few objects. And the country home that serves as the centerpiece of our action has more than a few objects to go around. 

Our protagonist is a morose, tomboyish, yet attractive housekeeper with a name out of a socialist realist novel, Sophie Bonhomme (Sandrine Bonnaire). When we first see her, she is somewhat late to an appointment with the debonair and rather stunning Catherine Lelièvre (an equally stunning Jacqueline Bisset) at a café that admittedly makes Catherine nervous. Why should a woman of the world, a former model (we are informed later by a dubious source), and a member of the upper crust of society, feel ill at ease in a mediocre little bistro, the likes of which litter France as pigeons occupy Rome? Better to let the events speak for themselves. Catherine warns Sophie – although the warning is like much of Catherine's persona, wholly disingenuous – that the house is remote. "Is that a problem?" she asks, also not caring whether it is. "I don't know," replies Sophie, an answer that startles Catherine. Throughout the film Sophie will recur to this slogan of her ignorance, and on numerous occasions Catherine will be startled either because Sophie should obviously know or because her indifference to that knowledge comes off as terrifying. Catherine's clear, lightly-accented French hints at a privileged life spend abroad in foreign tongues, perhaps indeed very privileged. Alas, she has had little success with domestics of late (such is the curse of the wealthy unable to procure the perfect assistant) and Sophie was laid off after her employer's husband died suddenly. "She's moving to Australia to be with her son," she tells Catherine, who couldn't care less what happens to the former employer provided the reference is solid. Sophie presents her letter of recommendation, but does so in a manner that will strike the careful viewer as unusual. We cannot see Catherine's face at that very moment, so it is impossible to detect whether the same sensation creeps over her features, but the way Sophie points to the name and address on the top of the letter makes us uncomfortable. The two ladies hit it off as much as they can given that they are negotiating the blandest of business deals, Sophie agitatedly mentions her previous salary, Catherine catches on and hikes it by ten percent, and all of a sudden there is nothing more to talk about. For her first day of work, Sophie's employer will fetch her at nine on Tuesday from the local train station. And what day is it today, asks the employee. Saturday, says a startled Mrs. Lelièvre, who doesn't really notice anything wrong although she very well should.  

This scene, one of the very best opening vignettes you will ever see, foreshadows every detail to come. We may even generously interpret Sophie's listless looks over Catherine's shoulder as symbolizing her gaze at another character, one who hasn't been mentioned but who figures prominently in our story, and one who can also be symbolized by a letter since her work comprises the handling of others' written correspondence. That remarkable shrew is the local postmistress Jeanne (Isabelle Huppert). For my money, Huppert and Emily Watson are the world's two most talented actresses, but let us not digress. Catherine returns to her remote manor for a family dinner of moules-frites, without, it appears, the frites. The reactions towards Sophie's hiring are mixed: her recently teen son Gilles (Valentin Merlet) inquires as to her looks (Catherine, of course, "did not notice" anything except that "she wasn't awful"); her nineteen-year-old stepdaughter Melinda (Virginie Ledoyen) wonders as many educated young people do about the wages and conditions of their imminent housekeeper; and her greybeard husband Georges (Jean-Pierre Cassel) just wants to eat his mussels, listen to Mozart, and hope it all works out for the best. One may consider this blended quartet a microcosm of upper-class interests – money and labor negotiations, hedonism, overidentification with the less fortunate owing, it is assumed, to guilt, and a Pollyanna-like aversion to conflict coupled with a longing for higher culture – or one may not. Since the confrontations that will arise pit the well-off against those who perform services for the selfsame elite, the most facile of readings will have something to do with the proletariat – but now we must really put a stop to this silliness and return to that train station.   

Somehow we know that when the nine o'clock Tuesday morning train arrives, Sophie won't be on it. We are so sure of this, in fact, that we search for the same intuition in Catherine, who seems to know it as well, although she cannot quite fathom why. Since we are still in that tenebrous age before cell phones, our brooding employer takes out a cigarette and puffs away furiously – that is, until she espies Sophie on the other side of the platform. Sophie, who is wearing exactly what she wore to the bistro, has taken an earlier train with the explanation that she did not want to be late, which may ultimately rank as the most plausible of her countless lies in La Cérémonie. As the two approach Catherine's car, they are accosted by Jeanne looking for a ride to work, and we should say something about this Jeanne. In and around town Jeanne Marcal is known for four things: her gaudy, Pippi Longstocking-like wardrobe; her snooping (in her profession that means rendering unto mail recipients what Caesar's taster used to render unto Caesar); her volunteering for the Church, although she has no evident spirituality and simply desires to help the poor; and her past tragedy, as she once upon a time was acquitted for the negligent death of her small daughter. The description of this dreadful event that she confesses to Sophie omits so much detail as to make us wonder what, if anything, she ever says is true. Everything she utters, be it whimsical, cruel, or objectively intelligent, is punctuated by the same myopic smile. Yet somehow we believe, if for but a moment, that it was society not Jeanne who killed her daughter. Society who made her an outcast and a single mother; society who let her dwell in a tiny apartment with an exposed oven; society that rushed to damn her before she could even muster a defense. Thus ten minutes into our film, we have been sufficiently introduced to the three female leads, all seated in one car and revving off in the same and yet very different directions. When Jeanne smiles at Sophie with that myopic smile, the latter looks perplexed as to why anyone would smile at her. Later, towards the middle of the film, Sophie will finally return the smile and our story assumes a very different tenor.

There is a poorly-kept secret in La Cérémonie that outrattles the other, less consequential skeletons surfacing one after another like zombies. The scene in which the truth is 'revealed' (any half-awake viewer would have reached the same conclusion well before this point) seems overwrought and melodramatic, but the grief and anger that ooze out foretell the wickedness of the tale's end. In more than one scene we see despair, white-man-in-China despair, an abyss of hopelessness that gapes like a leviathan. The secret soon becomes the justification for all of Sophie's passive-aggressive charades, although it should be said that her personality is so damaged to begin with that no excuse will suffice. I have said less about Jeanne, a creature from a very black lagoon, because what is said about her in the film is so clear yet so terrifying that we shudder to consider the fact that we probably all know people just like her. Cheeky, impish, prying, cheerfully mischievous in an effort to mask true malevolence, intelligent in that way unique to very smart people who have come to envy life and all its inhabitants, Jeanne skips around, gleefully pinching fruit from a vendor like some insolent street urchin. We find her so frightening precisely because she is mindfully incalculable. And what about Sophie? In one respect Sophie embodies the plight of the typical domestic servant, who may be likened in this instance to a piece of furniture: something you acquire, place in a comfortable spot, and only notice ever again when you start tripping over it. As for the darkness and the ceremony, well, we would probably be better off just going and helping the poor. Just like Jeanne.

Friday
Jan092015

The Piano Teacher

Bark on, bark on, my most vigilant hounds!
Let me not rest when dark slumber abounds!
With my dreams I have reached an end,
No more time have I with sleepers to spend

                                                                    Franz Schubert, Die Winterreise

This composer, whom the titular character in this film describes in absolute terms as “ugly,” was uncompromisingly devoted to his art, perhaps in no small part because he saw little value in a material life of hedonism and wealth. Schubert's perception of an artist working night and day to achieve minor personalized goals in his lifetime that will only become global imprints well after death suggests not only a blind faith in the redemption of the soul, but also a disheartening contempt for this one life he has been given. 

This quandary – art versus life, sacrifice versus immediate gratification, profundity versus superficial banality – is as old as life and art themselves, and one that plagues Erika (the sensational Isabelle Huppert), a teacher and lover of music. Erika is extremely gifted in her field and, like so many artists, as demanding of others as she is of herself.  She is a recluse, living with her mother (Annie Girardot) and socializing with no one else, suppressing the quiet pain of having a father rotting away in an asylum (“the twilight of the mind,” she calls it), unpleasant with her students, of whom she can realistically expect little, and evasively bellicose towards her colleagues. So far, Erika fits an artistic stereotype all too well: the insufferable genius who demands perfection in everyone and everything and is left bitter by the gross negligence of a world sworn to mediocrity and passableness. There is, of course, a little more to her than that – and what exactly that little more entails has stirred up a great deal of controversy. Erika has a curiously unhinged side to her that manifests itself in pornographic and sadomasochistic whims, the likes of which have no real place in an artistic work and the reason why this film has been considered a bit of a hybrid.  No need to go into details, but suffice it to say that Erika cannot really relate to anything except her music (even her mother is just another obstacle to her routine). And her music is about endless practice, endless striving towards perfection, and the vast majority of life is spent chasing that perfection, with the possibility of attaining it seemingly just around the corner. If this description sounds like a metaphor for something else, then the second half of the film will make perfect sense.

It is precisely at the midway point of the film that she gives in to her desires for Walter (Benoît Magimel), a handsome young prodigy who also has feelings for her of a much more conventional sort. When she first plays before him, the long waits for Walter’s face to react tell you he will be a factor in the film. It is when he first plays, however, that we understand the twisted underside to Erika’s psyche: she cannot bear to look at him, not out of disgust but out of boredom. Erika, you see, has another aspect common to many artists: she is interminably bored when not engaged in her own artistic pursuits. It’s not even that nothing else matters, but that nothing else could possibly matter. But she has urges and physical lacunae that have never really been addressed, and her haplessness in that sliver of life called sexual interaction is as glaring as her art is elevated. When she hurts herself, it’s not for the trite excuse, “I hurt myself because I forgot what it was like to feel something,” but rather the “I don’t remember ever touching anything except piano keys.” At no point does Erika, who is a truly cultured and intelligent person, seem fake or conjured up from the back of some deranged and lonely mind. Yet at the same time she is also an abstraction, a piece of music that someone wrote and commanded to live, a Frankenstein sonata.  And when the film, based on a novel by this equally controversial Austrian Nobel Prize winner, asks her to live, it spirals swiftly down into a painful exchange of bruised egos and, well, bruises. 

Much has been made of the sex and violence in The Piano Teacher, directed by one of Jelinek’s most famous fellow countrymen, although it’s considerably less than the orgy of sexploitations and sexplosions scripted into your average action film. I have not read Jelinek’s novel and cannot say I am maneuvering my shelf components in anticipation of such a purchase, but the character names reveal a novelist’s touch. Walter’s last name is Klemmer, or, in German, “the one who clamps or traps,” and his first name, when pronounced in French (apart from some songs by Schubert, the film is exclusively in French but filmed in Austria with Germanic names, German street signs, and so forth) does not sound very different from “Voltaire.” Klemmer is also the surname of a famous jazz musician, whom Jelinek may have had in mind when she wrote her novel in the early 1980s, although this is debatable. More important is that another of Erika’s students is called Nápravník, who was a Czech conductor and was mentioned in this famous novel. In Czech (Jelinek is of Czech descent), nápravník is related to the words “correctional” and “corrector,” suggesting both a prison and a teacher, as Erika is certainly both. Yet Erika is not some sort of aspiring dominatrix, nor does she reflect Austrian society's alleged emphasis on discipline and excellence (you can foresee down what darksome path that leads), but a woman terrifyingly alone and closing the gap on middle age. Somehow her soul’s torment is supposed to be mitigated by a set of rather banal urges, when that is precisely her only quality that has nothing to do with art. But Huppert's performance is so outstanding that we try to battle through the film despite our repulsion. Maybe the last twenty minutes or so are best watched on fast forward; then again, perhaps there is no better way to experience Erika's slow burn than to endure what she endures down to the final frame. As one of her students sings (from Schubert's Der Wegweiser) in perfect summation:

But I have done nothing so wrong
That I should avoid the human throng.
What kind of foolish desire
Drives me tow'rd the wastelands' mire?

Saturday
Oct182014

Merci pour le chocolat

Chocolate manufacturers have almost invariably suffered a cruel fate in literature and film, perhaps because they come to seem as petty and decadent as their precious wares. When fictional chocolate does have some kind of positive connotation, it usually veers down that extremely dubious path of catholicon and, if applicable, aphrodisiac as well. Let's set the matter straight: chocolate is but another drug. True, it may at times so stimulate the brain that some people frankly never recover. But like alcohol, nicotine, or anything else that one allows to shape's one mood and, in so doing, one's personality, chocolate is an excuse for those who need excuses and a pleasure for those whose lives may not have enough of it. Which brings us to this quiet little mystery

We begin with the strangely distant Marie-Claire Muller (Isabelle Huppert) exchanging vows with the just as strangely fatigued André Polonski (Jacques Dutronc). Why Polonski and Muller as the protagonists in a French film, albeit one set in this relatively multiethnic city? Are their names intentionally foreign-sounding? Our Muller is an heiress to a formidable chocolate business, which for some Europeans is as plain an accomplishment as her surname suggests. Polonski, on the other hand, while perhaps a reference to another director, is a highly regarded classical pianist. His is also a common name – in Poland, where the most famous of all French pianists was born – and so we again face the quandary, so prevalent in Chabrol, of societal conflict, of an invisible class struggle, of art and its eternity versus the immediate gratification of gold bullion. It is well known that another contemporary director likes to employ bourgeois couples called Anne and George, or variants thereof, upon whom he can inflict the vilest of fates. But what about Chabrol? "I declare you bound, re-bound, if I may be permitted to say, in marriage," says the justice of the peace. "Please exchange rings." "They're the same ones" says Marie-Claire, who goes by Mika, which may remind us not a little of Milka, a German chocolate – but I digress. Yes, Mika and Polonski were, once upon a time, wife and man, nineteen years ago to be exact. Just before, as it were, the pianist decided for reasons that will become painfully clear to us that Mika was not his soul’s mate, and opted to marry the lovely Lisbeth who would bear him his only child Guillaume (Rodolphe Pauly) then perish in a mysterious car accident on Guillaume’s tenth birthday. A flashback near the film’s midpoint clarifies the unusual sequence of occurrences that evening, even if what this character remembers is not what the official police report contains. What we do know, and what is reflected in that brief glimpse into a foggy and mysterious past, is that even after their brief marriage and divorce, Polonski and Mika remained so close that it was at Mika’s house that the family was staying at the time, and it was in Mika’s neighborhood that Lisbeth fell asleep at the wheel and skidded off into eternal rest. And it was also Mika who gave Lisbeth the titular cocoa laced with Rohypnol mere minutes before her fatal ride.

Revealing this detail here does not spoil our film, because the same information is made available to the viewer at a proportionally earlier point in Merci pour le chocolat. It seems safe to assume that Mika killed Lisbeth, whether or not she intended to do so. Our task is to determine why she took this course of action, and what, if anything, occupies the black abyss of what is left of her soul. Even in the opening scenes, when Mika listlessly humors guests at her wedding reception then, as if to make amends for such a betrayal, a well-attended public exhibition of Lisbeth’s photography, we sense that she has long since been shunted down a very different track. At the exhibition we move quickly from one photo that appears to be a close-up of thumbs depressing a neck, to Polonski trapped in some imbecilic harangue on politics, to Mika tuning out – there is no other expression – one of her oldest employees and a dear friend of her father’s. With little forewarning – people seem to be quite used to her permanent somnambulism – she walks away and touches someone on the back who appears to be Guillaume. With that touch, which befits a lover much more than a stepmother, we somehow have the premonition that it will not be Guillaume. When it turns out indeed to be Mika's stepson, it is remarkable to note how his perturbation indicates sexual prudishness. Yes, Guillaume has joined the rest of the world in finding something sensual about Isabelle Huppert, hardly a cause for either lamentation or praise. But within the context of the film, it suggests yet another complication that bobs its head upon the surface on account of the only person who sees Mika touch Guillaume at the exhibition, a beautiful eighteen-year-old by the name of Jeanne Pollet (Anna Mouglalis).

Jeanne we know from an earlier scene. In it, two very well-to-do middle-aged ladies Pauline (German actress Isolde Barth) and Louise Pollet meet in a posh restaurant where, one gets the impression, they no longer need to look at the menu. Apart from reveling in their poshness, they are also awaiting their teenage children, Jeanne and Axel, who are openly dating but “probably playing tennis right now” (the hint is clear, even to the mothers in denial). When the duo finally cruises in still perspiring from, well, their afternoon workout, Pauline is reminded of an announcement from today’s paper regarding the Muller-Polonski wedding. What happens next is so preposterous (Barth's pronounced accent in French imbues the whole scene with an urgent gravity, as if the foreign press were reporting a scandal) it could only be likely: apparently Jeanne, a budding young pianist, was born at the same hospital on the same day as Guillaume Polonski. Owing to a dearth in bracelets, only the first three letters of their surnames were written and – and here I admit to having laughed myself silly, and not only at the thought of a Swiss hospital lacking supplies. In any case, what we may say is that some doubts arise as to Jeanne's parentage, all the more so since her legal father has been dead for many years; Louise's shockingly defensive reaction – any self-assured parent would have mocked the whole notion – only serves to deepen Jeanne's and our suspicions. One thing leads to another and Jeanne shows up on the Polonskis' doorstep eager to meet the great master. In no small coincidence, she also happens to have a piano competition in Budapest in a couple of weeks and could benefit from as much private tutoring as possible. Polonski, of course, is in that regard all too happy to oblige. And although he makes a point of verbally dismissing Jeanne's paternity queries, his treatment of her indicates otherwise, perhaps because she reminds him of Lisbeth, whose gestures culled from photographs in Guillaume's room she begins to ape.

Not every secret that subtends Merci pour le chocolat is revealed, because life does not show all its cards, at least not all at once. We may think we know what took place that lonely night, but the versions we get cannot be considered in any way definitive. There are many delicate, observant moments that illuminate our cast in unpredictable ways: consider when Dutronc, a marvelously understated actor, thoroughly convinces Jeanne that he may believe her story, then turns to Guillaume and speaks exactly like a father who has no doubt about his offspring; when Mika goes to see Louise in her office for one of the tensest tea-drinking scenes in recent memory; or when a character turns off the lights in bed only to have a close-up reveal a face much more awake in the darkness than the light, as if the face and the brain behind it thrived in the shadows of human motives. A couple of details from the telltale flashback, details specifically concerning Guillaume, also imply what may have happened and what may yet occur. Yet as Polonski himself admits, Jeanne's distinct resemblance to Lisbeth has as much to do with the good memory it generates as with any biological probability. Almost anyone can resemble anyone else if a few key mannerisms are copied; the more eccentric the mannerisms available, the more convincing the understudy. And we haven't even mentioned what piece Jeanne will be playing in Budapest.

Friday
Nov042011

Gabrielle

A romantic mind will always be drawn to an era he could not possibly have known: Europe between the Great Wars, America as it began its first free century, England when Dickens was its sole witness (upon me 1960s and 1970s Northern Europe has cast an everlasting spell).  Even an acute nostalgist knows that his sentiments are mostly based on unhappy persons' yearning for a past they cannot have, thus arming themselves for a future they cannot bear, and yet he still yearns.  He yearns for love and remembrance, sweetness and wonder, and the eternity of his wretched soul.  He will watch movies and read books, and dream himself the hero who simply must triumph in the end.  Life will continue to disappoint him mildly, but life is always disappointing to those who choose to dwell in the past.  What he wants is to be transported to that period, to breathe its air and darken beneath its sunsets and know beforehand that it will be the most glorious years of his existence.  Alas, such is not our fate.  We are doomed to do quite the reverse and live as if our better days are always a step ahead.  Which brings us to a work from one of the most romanticized of all periods.

We are amidst the Belle Époque, that generation of prosperity before an Austrian nobleman would die and Europe would bleed.  Like all such times, the label will come in hindsight, as its proponents firmly believed that nothing could have been worse than the First World War – a notion that would prove to be hideously mistaken.  Like all reminiscents, they predictably overlook the malaise and woe of the vast majority in order to celebrate the minority's advances; almost just as predictably, guilt prevents them from glorifying the very elite – statesmen, kings, and industrialist mega-moguls – because, well, no one should really have anything nice to say about people so privileged as rarely having to wear the same clothes twice.  Their focus then shifts to the upper middle class, the moneyed bourgeois who have neither blue blood nor courtier manners.  Many of this stratum were of humble provenance, and made their money the old-fashioned way: a lucky investment.  Such is the case of Jean Hervey (a magnificent Pascal Greggory), who took a flyer on a "failing newspaper."  It was "a horrible newspaper, with no opinions," and initially yielded nothing more than bromides and inoffensiveness.  But without the slightest indication – at least not to its new owner – the newspaper reversed its fortune and made Jean a permanent member of the urbanized rich (Jean claims he has "an easy relationship" with money).  We see nothing of the Jean the businessman, but we can expect him to resemble quite closely Jean the socialite, that is, stuffy, boring, and dapper, with the perpetual mild indignation that snobs seem naturally to exude.  Every Thursday, then, and we begin our film on a Thursday, a couple of dozen guests – it would be too presumptuous to call them friends – gather at Jean's palatial residence for dinner, gossip, and a ritual without which their lives might be totally meaningless.  Jean has plenty of almost robotic, identical female servants to do the heavy lifting, figuratively and literally, and gets away with practically saying and doing nothing at all.  But the main reason he can permit himself such insouciance is his lovely wife Gabrielle (an even more magnificent Isabelle Huppert).

Gabrielle is one of the screen's most original creations, in no small part because she is perfectly comfortable in her existence and yet perfectly miserable.  We do not immediately deduce the latter part of that equation, but an event barely twenty minutes into our film will make that agonizingly clear.  At this first Thursday gathering, however, she is anything if not the genteel hostess.  Her guests quack and croak in the pretentious tones of those who believe current events, strong drinks, and a bit of company lead to philosophical epiphanies.  One quips idiotically, without precedence or conclusion, that he dreams of strangers falling in love; a fat woman states that she never repeats what a stranger tells her, but keeps it for herself – which implies that she repeats everything her friends and acquaintances tell her; Jean, who narrates our story, hums complacently to himself that he knows "Gabrielle's dreams" so "she could not be unfaithful"; an elderly spinster grins and announces that, "we have a set of things to do in life.  When we finish, we collapse"; and another guest observes that "you don't have to know someone to enjoy his company," and we already understand that the whole film will come to be about knowledge, about whom we really know and whom we think we know, and those we think know us.  All these comments drown out the loudmouth rants of an obese and dishevelled drunk who just so happens to be the editor-in-chief of Jean's newspaper.  Our narrator informs us that he does not think much of this slob, but, being of the Philistine vanguard, is naturally prone to taking no action and hoping for the best.  I spoil nothing by saying that on the Herveys' ten-year anniversary, Jean returns home, slinks up the stairs and through a series of rooms only to find a letter sitting on his wife's boudoir.  It is very much a Dear Jean letter, and we know its contents even if we are given only a few gigantic words on screen.  But before Jean can even decide how to react ("you did not accustom me to this, Gabrielle"), Gabrielle does what no one could have possibly thought she would: after an absence of barely three hours, she returns.  

A tale of domestic deception is a dusty chestnut, and as such, the original story cannot be recommended because its intentions are hardly sincere.  Not only is there nothing shocking about such indiscretions, they are rarely if ever imbued with any pathos.  The paramount question would seem to be – as posed by Conrad's title, "The Return" – why Gabrielle comes back.  Is she simply inured to her pointless existence?  Does a part of her long for security and ease, things that her lover will not be able to provide her?  But the smarter viewer knows that the question is a McGuffin best left to hopeless graduate students who deem existentialism a profound path; thankfully, Chéreau seems to know it as well.  The victory of style in the cinematic Gabrielle is the transformation of a plain text that wishes itself dynamic and controversial into a dynamic and controversial stage piece that wishes itself plain.  In the hands and mouths of lesser actors, we would have a soap opera whose dénouement could have been predicted somewhere around the ninth minute; but Huppert and Greggory do something extraordinary.  They try as hard as they can to be run-of-the-mill citizens – Greggory the well-to-do dullard who never laughs, Huppert the delicately sturdy wife who never cries, both stock bourgeois roles – and yet they fail.  Their savage efforts to be like everyone else lays bare the originality of their minds, most evident in the bizarre scenes between Gabrielle and her domestic, Yvonne, when sexual tension mingles with a misty sense of oneupmanship.  When Jean the narrator tells us, and us alone, that Gabrielle is "not just any woman," we sense she will answer this thought aloud later in the film, and she most certainly does.  When she waxes poetic about the suffering she endured in not leaving Jean for good ("my body, my arms, and my legs could not take it"), he accuses her of plagiarism because that is precisely how those without taste or artistic sense confront flashes of genius.  It is no surprise then that Jean's line of sight is frequently screened by his large forelock, nor that the interchangeable female staff – who sometimes feel like a Greek chorus waiting to caption tragedy – seem much more alive than the guests.   And those two moments in life when Gabrielle was happy?  Let's just say they reveal more about her than any departure or return ever could.