In turn-of-the-century France, a minister (Charles Berling) scandalizes his tiny Protestant community by divorcing his wife (Isabelle Huppert) and falling in love with a newly arrived young woman (Emmanuelle Béart). Their existence is briefly idyllic, until he is called back to run his family's china factory in Limoges. Between business and The Great War and the Depression, their lives slip by before they know it. This conventional three-hour family saga--adapted from a novel by '30s writer Jacques Chardonne--is uncharacteristic of director Olivier Assayas (Irma Vep, Late August, Early September), whose best work has been relentlessly contemporary. Les Destinées has a leisurely, contemplative pace without ever growing boring. Still, at the end, we are left somehow empty. For all the time we spend with these people, we never really get inside them. Both the performances and the visual style keep us aloof, and the procession of details and events seem so evenly weighted, so deliberately anti-melodramatic that, in the long run, they don't add up to much, emotionally or otherwise. Huppert fans should be advised that her role, while dramatically important, is relatively brief.
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