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DAMAGE(director: Louis Malle; screenwriters: David Hare/adapted from the novel by Josephine Hart; cinematographer: Peter Biziou; editor: John Bloom; music: Zbigniew Preisner; cast: Jeremy Irons (Dr. Stephen Fleming), Juliette Binoche (Anna Barton), Ingrid (Miranda Richardson), Rupert Graves (Martyn), Ian Bannen (Edward Lloyd), Leslie Caron (Elizabeth Prideaux), Peter Stormare (Peter Wetzler), Gemma Clark (Sally), Julian Fellows (Donald Lyndsaymp); Runtime: 111; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Louis Malle/Vincent Malle/Simon Relph; New Line Cinema; 1992-UK/France-in English)
“It might be well-crafted and well-acted, but it’s still an unintentionally laughable film about an older man getting into an attractive younger girl’s pants.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A visually stunning but sluggish and stilted soap opera-like cautionary tale of amour fou that comes with a back story about a political power play. It’s adapted by David Hare from Josephine Hart’s bestseller. Veteran French director Louis Malle (“Pretty Baby”/”Alamo Bay”/”Calcutta”) gets lost in the film’s ennui and doesn’t seem to want or know how to get out of that trap door. Its sensitive subject matter of abandoned lustful passions makes for a risqué sex dramatization that is oddly enough still coldly depicted; it seems to hardly carry any conviction and lays on some inevitable heavy emotional reactions that seemed more risible than earnest.

The film is seen through the eyes of the Jeremy Irons character, Stephen Fleming, a contented proper middle-aged millionaire doctor-turned Tory member of Parliament. He has an attractive devoted and correct wife Ingrid (Miranda Richardson) that he shows affection to and is kind to his journalist son Martyn (Rupert Graves) and precocious daughter Sally (Gemma Clark), who are both solid citizens. Stephen is being pushed by Ingrid’s influential father, Edward Lloyd (Ian Bannen), to be a prime minister some time down the road. He seems the ideal candidate, he’s conservative, well-educated, articulate, looks the part of a leader and is a good team player with no scandals or vices. But things take a drastic turn in Stephen’s life when he attends a cocktail party and the sexy and youthful Anna Barton (Juliette Binoche) bats her eyes at him and introduces herself as his son Martyn’s girlfriend for the last few months. The next time these two meet, they’re wailing away in bed. Our boy has never had such a good roll in the hay. But she cautions him to beware, that she’s damaged goods, and tells him her intimate secret that she was the object of her brother’s incestuous cravings when she was a teenager and he committed suicide rather than face losing her. Anna then warns Stephen, “Damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive.”

Nevertheless the two carry on a steamy clandestine affair in some ritzy London spots and go on with their regular lives as before. Only Stephen becomes quite taken with her, even obsessed enough to follow her and Martyn to Paris where they spend the weekend together. The surprise comes when the young couple soon announce their engagement, as Stephen deluded himself into thinking his son wasn’t serious about her. It now becomes obvious that someone here is heading for disaster, and when the politician’s affair becomes known to his family the shit hits the fan. The fun is to guess which one is in for a hot time in the old town over this letting go of conventional concerns. The surprises that come have to do with such things as recognizing that pain and desires are wedded to each other, the dangers of being betrayed in love, the meaning of love and the fragility of lovers that could lead to emotional breakdowns. If you remember what the title of the film is, you shouldn’t be too surprised that there’s damage to pay for such high living.

It might be well-crafted and well-acted, but it’s still an unintentionally laughable film about an older man getting into an attractive younger girl’s pants. What all that means has been frequently told better, more poignantly and in a more entertaining way for me to get too hot and bothered over this tightly told story.

Popular old time actress Leslie Caron, of Gigi fame, has a small part as Anna’s mother and talks about Anna’s love life. Miranda Richardson gives off a shriek of rage over the events, and for that walks off with a Best Supporting Actress nomination.

REVIEWED ON 10/28/2007 GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”