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“Courted,” (“L’Hermine”), TRIBECA

"Courted" got nominated thrice for France's César
Fabrice Luchini, Sidse Babett Knudsen and Eva Lallier
Directed by Christian Vincent

I’m not too fond of the English title for Christian Vincent’s new courtroom drama. “Courted” sounds too much like a smarmy romantic comedy, emphasizing the idea of courtship and love. While there is certainly a romantic subplot in “Courted”, it it only a small piece of the film’s puzzle. Its original French title is much more appropriate: “L’Hermine.” Translated into English, it means “ermine,” the name given to stoats during winter when their coats become a vibrant white with sharp black tips. These furs have long been an important symbol and pattern in European heraldry, such as in the Coat of Arms of Francis II, a fifteenth-century Duke of Brittany. They can also be prominently found on the robe of Judge Xavier Racine (Fabrice Luchini), a dour, intimidating man notorious for his harsh judgments. Racine’s robe is part of an illusion he builds to detach himself from the bitter realities of his work. And this is what “Courted” is truly about: the slow chipping away at the masks that shield us from the world and each other. Throughout “Courted” Racine exposes himself bit by bit as he reconnects with Ditte Lorensen-Coteret (Sidse Babett Knudsen), an old friend who shows up one day as a juror in a controversial case about the accidental murder of a young child.

“Courted” frames Racine and Ditte as only two parts of a larger cross-section of French society. Vincent devotes much leisurely time to incidental characters and moments which don’t have much to do with anything. Take an opening scene where Ditte and her fellow jurors go to a restaurant and introduce each other. They talk and bicker, argue and laugh for several minutes before anything potentially plot related happens. The case itself is used as a framing device for Racine and Ditte’s rekindling relationship. At times the film almost seems to forget about them as it dives into the minutiae of the case, the sworn statements and testimonies, the cross-examinations and jury deliberations. But Vincent’s methods are not unfocused. In Père Goriot it is striking how Balzac takes pains to carefully establish exposition, from characters to settings, before beginning the story. His plots were small microcosms in the vastness of nineteenth-century Paris and so, too, are Racine and Ditte. Therein lies the film’s power.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Nate Hood is Screen Comment’s main film critic in New York. Follow him here @NateHood257

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  • Kenji

    Great review. I hadn’t thought of the Balzac connection. Thanks!