Les Enfants du siPcle (Children of the Century) (1999)

 

 

Director:  Diane Kurys.

Starring:  Juliette Binoche (George Sand/Baroness Aurore Dudevant), BenoÓt Magimel (Alfred de Musset), Stefano Dionisi (Pietro Pagello), Robin Renucci (FranÁois Buloz), Karin Viard (Marie Dorval), Isabelle Carrť (Aimťe d'Alton), Patrick Chesnais (Gustave Planche), Arnaud Giovaninetti (Alfred Tattet), Denis PodalydPs (Sainte-Beuve), Olivier Foubert (Paul de Musset), Marie-France Mignal (Mme. de Musset), Michel Robin (Larive), Ludivine Sagnier (Hermine de Musset), Victoire Thivisol (Solange), Julien Lťal (Maurice).

love affair between George Sand and poet Alfred de Musset

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

The wars were over leaving no glory or ideal to die for. Alfred Musset was wrapped up in the selfishness of the age until he met her. Buloz and George Sand are out riding and she is very mad at him. She says the character in the book is her and she is painted as some stuffy lady. He says to her if she doesnít like the book maybe she should write her own. She says maybe she will. But for now Mr. Buloz will be leaving.

Several years earlier. 1832. Georgeís boy, Maurice, asks her if they will go to Paris to get away from fatherís drinking for awhile. Paris, a few days later. There is a lot of turmoil in the street. George tells Maurice not to move from the coach, but when his sister Solange moves from the coach he follows her. Soldiers fire at citizens in the street. George looks for Maurice but he is not by the coach. She is beside herself with fear. Everyone is running away from the soldiers and George is running with them. She finally hears the voices of Maurce and Solange calling her.

She and her children go to see a man named Sandeau at a fancy restaurant. She has come from Chateauroux and has left her husband. He invites her to sit down at his table with two other people.. George says that Boulevard St. Martin is a bloodbath. The woman at the table is an actress named Marie Dorval. She gives George her card and then leaves. George is then introduced to Latouche, editor of Le Figaro. Sandeau tells Latouche that this is the Baroness Dudevant. They wrote Rose et Blanche together. The editor canít believe this is Jules Sand. She explains that she couldnít use her married name, so Sandeau gave her half of his name. She made it a manís name because no one listens to women. She likes to be called George.

A writer named Alfred Musset is in a house of prostitution drawing some of the womenís pictures. Between his legs a woman gives him oral sex. He tells the woman to go over to Marie Dorval and seduce her. The woman acts scared and Marie comes over to her to ask what is the matter. She says itís Musset who scares hers. Marie tells her to beware of the man for he is ruthless and spiteful. Soon it is mission accomplished for the woman. Musset goes over to the prostitute and starts kissing her. He asks Marie to join them but she says not tonight. A message arrives for Musset. His father is very ill with cholera.

Musset gets on a horse and rides to his fatherís house. He runs in and up the stairs until his brother stops him to tell him that father is already dead. He strikes his brother in the face.

George tries on a shirt and trousers. That way she can go about the city unnoticed and can go to the theater without an escort. Marie is with her. She says: "They wonít have any doubts about us now." George says she couldnít care less and that Marie is the best thing thatís happened to her in Paris.

At a get together George reads from her work. She says that marriage enslaves a woman with no rights. She canít think for herself, canít own property nor feel erotic pleasure. There is a scattering of applause, but one man says itís a scandal and leaves. Marie leaves to get some fresh air saying to George that she told her that it was not a good idea. She asks if it was Bulozís idea? Buloz says the book will sell like hotcakes. Pinzon says the work is fit only for the bathroom. Musset just does arrive. A book critic says to George that in his column he will drag her name through the mud. He says she is not a man and even less than a woman. Her book will sell, but like manure. Musset comes over to console George. He tells her he wants to kiss her and does so.

George is told that Marie is talking about her so she confronts Marie, who says she is only explaining Georgeís character, that she has never had real pleasure. She adds that now thirty men are ready to take up the challenge. But it will still be a fiasco.

The next day Musset goes to see George at her place. There are already a lot of men there. He tells her that he just finished her book. But it is so hectic there that he says he will come another day. She runs after him to ask him to go to the theater with her. After the play she invites Musset up to her place. She gives him a book and tells him she would like his opinion of it. He takes the book and leaves.

Musset reads the play straight through and comes to tell George that he is very enthusiastic about it. They start rewriting the play and work through the night. The children are going away for three months. Alone at night George bends toward Alfred, but he says: "No, we mustnít. I canít love you in that way. Thereís a place in my heart, but for a true comrade."

Alfred tells his family that he wants to go to Italy to get a feel for the places he is writing about (with George Sand). His brother asks if Alfred if it was George who made the decision about thes trip. This angers Alfred and he starts to leave, but his mother asks him to stay. She tells Alfred that she doesnít want him to waste his life on an older woman with a husband somewhere. She forbids him to go with "that woman". His brother says Alfred will thank him one day, but Alfred answers him by stabbing his hand with a table fork. And yet, still his brother tells him not to go for Alfred canít love and only destroys those who love him.

Musset visits George and asks if she can put him up at her place. She says he can sleep on the sofa. George asks him if he has told his mother about their plans to travel and Alfred says they have had a falling out. George has to go out for the evening. Alfred will stay home. She leaves, but he comes after her. They kiss. He picks her up and takes her back inside. They start kissing passionately, but he stops her to say: "You imitate passion but you feel nothing." He asks her to savor the moment with him. The next day they go out riding.

George goes to visit Madame de Musset. Mother tells George that she is against the trip. George tells her not to worry. She will bring him back to her. She also tells mother that she loves Alfred.. Mother goes into her cabinet and gives George 2,000 francs for Alfredís journey.

A group of their friends come to see them off. Delacroix was supposed to come. They take a carriage to a ship that takes them to Italy. George develops a fever, but still she says: "Iíve never been so happy."

Alfred is at a house of prostitution. He comes back to the hotel somewhat drunk. George asks him whereís has he been, but he just wants to go to sleep. The next night she tells Alfred that she doesnít expect to spend her nights alone in Italy while he is out carousing with the coachman. They have sex in the coach. They arrive in Venice. Alfred gets mugged in Venice. At the hotel George again feels sick. She asks for a doctor. Alfred tells her he has just been robbed. Itís New Yearís Eve and the fire works are going off and people are carousing. Alfred wants to go out on the town, but George is still sick.

The doctor arrives. Alfred says heís not a very good nurse and will take a separate room in the hotel. In the morning Alfred returns by gondola kissing two women. George writes. Her doctor pays her a visit and is glad to hear that she is doing much better. He shows her an article in which she is featured. He says he didnít know she was famous. Alfred comes in and asks the doctor if he can get opium to treat his bad case of boredom. The Austrians have taken Venice and Alfred thinks the city is nothing more than a boring garrison town now.

Some Jews are being deported and are trying to sell their furniture. Alfred gives the Jewish man some of the money he won playing at the casino. The manís friends and relatives all clap for Alfredís generosity.

Alfred apologizes to George for being so mean the past few days. He resented her illness and thought she may have gotten sick on purpose. He tells her: "Never leave me."

In bed George says that Alfred has not been doing any writing and that he does not deserve the talent he has. They go to a restaurant to be with the doctor. George asks Alfred to give her his arm, but he says she should have stayed with her husband if she wants an arm. Alfred asks the doctor for the opium. He has none, so Alfred leaves. Alfred asks the cloakroom attendant for a prostitute and she shows him to the room. George leafs through Alfredís drawing pad and sees it is filled with scenes of prostitution and sex. She tears out the one picture of her in the pad.

Alfred wants to go out with George but she says she has to work. She promised Buloz 150 pages by the end of the month. He complains that they came to see the sights and she complains that he spends his nights in brothels. He tells her that he needs to live badly to write well. George becomes angry, thrusts her chair away from her desk and opens her robe to show herself nude to Alfred. She says she has to compete, so he should give her a chance at least. She tells him to draw her as he does the prostitutes and pay her for her work. He tells her to stop this stupid game. She tells him that he has taught her to love someone body and soul and if he canít give that to her, she wants nothing. He tells her he doesnít think he loves her anymore. He leaves. On his way out the doctor gives him some opium.

Alfred is high as a kite in public. He is also drinking. He goes into a building and climbs up some scaffolding. He jumps onto some stage drapes, which rip and send him toppling to the ground below.

George comes to visit Alfred in a hospital. The nurse tells her they found him in a canal. George takes him back to the hotel. The doctor comes to see Alfred. A little later he tells George that nothing more can be done for him. He says it was his fault because he gave him the opium. George starts pounding on him. She cries and screams over Alfred laying on the bed. The doctor stops her from ingesting something harmful. He tells her that Alfred can fight it. George writes to Buloz that Alfred has a brain fever and the doctor doesnít know what to do. If he dies, she doesnít care what happens to her. But for now she canít write. Alfred is delirious and she canít leave his side.

The doctor bleeds Alfred. He starts to come around, but heís still delirious. The doctor sees urine in the bed and says that Alfred will live. The doctor and George are very happy. She later tells the doctor that she is going mad. Alfred has another bout with delirium. This time he is a bit violent. He gets on top of a large cabinet and starts throwing books at them. George starts laughing.

The hotel manager is very upset by all the noise. And he tells George that she has not paid the hotel bill for ten days. The doctor and George have grown very close through this ordeal and act like lovers. When Alfred recovers George writes the doctor a note saying what would she have done without him. She says she will stay with Alfred as long as he needs her. She finishes with I love you, farewell, pity us.

She tells Alfred that she hasnít written anything for two weeks. She has been looking after him day and night. And they are all out of money. Alfred accuses her of having a relationship with the doctor. She swears that he is mistaken. He tells her she is lying and starts to strangle her. She fights him off. The maid calls for help. The doctor arrives to get her away from Alfred.

Alfred is leaving by himself to go back to France. George is staying with the doctor. Alfred is primarily worried about being put in a mental institution. George tells him he will be alright. He will recover and forget. He says: "I donít want to recover from you."

She asks him if he will write. Probably not. Alfred tells the doctor to take care of George. He gets on the coach. She rushes over to him and tells him to write to her soon. They kiss passionately.

Alfred writes to George. He says he deserved to lose her, but he is lost. Now he lives in Geneva. He didnít write for awhile because he wanted to be more sure of himself before writing. His love for her is as strong as ever.

George writes back that she lives virtually alone. Her good doctor is usually with his patients. She says that sometimes she just bursts out laughing about the foolish things they did, but then she starts to cry. She says they will be in love forever, but without passion or despair.

Alfred writes that he is back in Paris and everyone knows they parted. Some of the critics drag his name through the mud. And now he wants to write of their love affair. She says she has written an article about their relationship to silence those who say that Alfred abandoned and ruined her. Alfred writes that her son Maurice is doing well. He tells her he wants to see her one day for just one hour.

George tells her doctor that she must return to Paris because her son needs her. He says he will go with her. She agrees. Hanging out with prostitutes, Alfred tells his friend that he should blow his brains out.

George gives publisher Buloz a present from Italy. She also says he can publish her account of her trip to Italy with Musset. He tells her that society has spread rumors about her that she had entered a convent or ran off to Constantinople with a Turk. She says that her Italian doctor saved her life. George adds if she has not found happiness, then at least she has found peace. Buloz says Musset is in a very bad state and wants to meet with her. George shakes her head no. She wants to go to Nohant to see her children.

But George does run into Alfred. He waited for her. He asks her why she did not respond to his last letter? She runs from him. He grabs her and she tells him to let go of her. She goes to her room with her doctor. But Alfred keeps knocking on the door. He demands that she open the door. He says he is not violent anymore. They do not open the door.

Alfred is introduced to Aimee díAlton, even though they met earlier. They dance together. Alfred falls and is carried out. He asks Aimee to marry him.

At a fund raiser for veterans Aimee tells Alfred that George will suffer for the harm she did to him. In fact, she already has been. Her Italian doctor was selling fake Etruscan antiques to pay for his stay in France. She sent him home. This sends Alfred into a highly emotional state. He gets up from his chair to think.

Aimee tells his brother Paul that she has big plans for Alfred. She will promote his writing and establish a salon. In ten years he will be a member of the Academy.

Alfred runs as fast as he can to see George. She opens the door and they begin caressing each other. They have sex. They start living together with the children. One day he becomes very jealous of Georgeís relationship with the composer Liszt. He wants the truth. She says the truth is that she loves him and it is driving her mad. She asks: "Will your suspicions and jealousy and accusations never end?" He wants her to admit she had sex with her Italian doctor when he was very ill. She says he abandoned her in Venice so that period of her life is none of his concern. She goes into her room and closes the door.

George reads Mussetís latest play. She hugs him and says itís his best play yet. They go out for the evening. Brother Paul is now with Aimee. At the party Planche makes snide remarks about George. Alfred goes over to him and trips him and says he will kill him. He challenges the man to a duel. George comes in and tells Alfred: "I forbid you to fight for my honor. It implies you own me, and you donít." He says sheís right, killing off all her lovers would require an army. He starts getting too rough with her. She says: "Youíve been odious before. Now youíre vulgar." He says sheís the one who is vulgar, like her novels and she slaps him.

Paul comes to see George. He returns to her Alfredís key to her place. And Alfred wants her to send him his things. George is mad. She goes to see Alfred. The butler tries to keep her out, but she sneaks into the house. Through his door, she asks him why wonít he answer her letters? She has things she wants to tell him. She leaves a letter for him under the door. Paul picks up the letter and gives it to his mother who puts it in the cabinet unopened. In the letter she tells him the truth as he had asked. Yes, she was unfaithful to him in Venice. And she should have died that very day.

Buloz sees Alfred. He asks if he has seen George again. Alfred does not answer. Buloz says he canít remain angry forever. Paris is too small a town for that. Alfred says itís over. The book is his farewell to her. Buloz will take it to her. Then he will never see her again.

George tells a friend named Beuve that once she stops loving Alfred, she will recover her pride. She wants to see him one last time. She cuts her hair shorter. George goes with Beuve in the carriage to Mussetís place. Beuve speaks with Musset. Alfred decides to talk to her in the carriage. Musset tells her that the flame of love for her keeps burning inside him and will until he dies. "Thatís how love avenges itself." He says goodbye and steps out. George has the driver drive on.

George speaks with Buloz. He gives her back the letters she wrote to Alfred. She says she is writing her version of their story. Buloz says that Alfred is not at all well. George says that some of the letters, the last letters, are missing.

Georges goes to see Alfred again. Thereís been an accident so George get out of her carriage and walks the rest of the way to see Alfred. But Alfred has died. His mother tells George: "Your betrayal destroyed him." She gives George back the unopened letters. He never received the last letters. George cries.

About Alfred she says: "We only love once with all our soul. Today, I know it. It was him. He was that one time."

 

Good movie, but thereís not a lot of history here. But the love story is complicated and interesting. Sometimes people can love each other enormously, but they just canít quite work out a true, loving relationship. They always are at cross-purposes or misunderstand each other. That seems to be the case with the writers George Sand and Alfred Musset. They come together, they break up, they comes together again they break up again. Mussetís obsession with prostitutes didnít help matter any. But George having an affair with the Italian doctor while Alfred was very ill certainly made love matters much more difficult. It aided the first breakup and hastened the second breakup also. And by this time Alfredís family started working to keep George and Alfred apart and that didnít help matters any.

Their relationship certainly was complicated, which makes for a more intricate love story. I like lover stories with happy endings, but when the ending is not happy knowing why is helpful in softening the blow. You can better understand why the relationship just couldnít last.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 

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