LADY J. or Mademoiselle de Joncquières, is a French drama that follows a delusion forged by unrequited love and the insidious steps one widow will take to mend her broken heart. Directed by Emmanuel Mouret, LADY J explores the perpetual and fragile emotions of pride and love through an 18th century French lens where resources and class may be different than today, but the sentiment stays the same: rejection sucks.
Madame de La Pommeraye (Cécile de France) is an affluent widow who has retired to the countryside in her luxurious estate. She spends her time hosting guests, many of whom stay for months at a time. When one guest, Le Marquis des Arcis (Edouard Baer) – a renowned libertine, pays a long-term visit, Madame de La Pommeraye is blindsided as she slowly falls for him. Though the courting is drawn out through months of philosophical conversation, country side strolls, and forewarning by her close confidant Lucienne (Laure Calamy), a kiss finally seals the deal and they can finally start a loving and passionate monogamous relationship.
A proud Madame de La Pommeraye soon realizes her trust in a philanderer was a foolish mistake. While the Marquis makes frequent trips to the city, Madame grows restless and paranoid of his fidelity. It is Lucienne who must tell the story of Madame de Joncquières (Natalia Dontcheva), once a reputable woman who was impregnated and abandoned by a rake herself and left to live as a prostitute with her beautiful and titular daughter, Mademoiselle de Joncquières (Alice Isaaz). This tale seeps through and Madame de La Pommeraye knows she must confront the Marquis but is too proud to show her vulnerability and instead resorts to testing him.
A climactic scene follows, where Madame de La Pommeraye confesses to the Marquis that she has fallen out of love. We watch as a stultified Marquis slowly sports an unexpected smile as he realizes that Madame has just given him a way out, a key to his freedom to openly go back to his roots as a libertine. Not getting the reaction she wanted, Madame de La Pommeraye stays composed as the Marquis excitably exclaims how they can now live as close friends, picking up on no clues that she might have been deceiving him.
Madame de La Pommeraye wastes no time in seeking retribution. Sometimes payback feels like the best way to deal with rejection. She tracks down Madame and Mademoiselle de Joncquières and offers them money if they agree to be her accomplice in her punitive scheme. While the Marquis continues to believe that he is spending time with Madame de La Pommeraye in amity, the Madame is turning a fallen prostitute into a reticent, pious, and enchanting angel that the Marquis will not be able to resist. With full hopes to humiliate an unassuming Marquis, it is uncertain if the calculated and spiteful Madame de La Pommeraye will get her vengeance or not.
LADY J paints like an impressionist piece. Cinematically beautiful French countrysides and city streets almost seem brushed over with the messy and fleeting strokes of this tragic love story. The dynamic Vivaldi underscores the film, fueling the melodrama all the while accentuating its humor. LADY J even plays like a ballet as we get wrapped up in Madame de La Pommeraye’s rejection just to quickly abandon ship as we shift allegiances to the forlorn Marquis.
There are notable performances by Cécile de France as the garrulous widow and Alice Isaaz as she shows a remarkable range of emotion in our both reticent and sincere Lady J. I was less moved with Edouard Baer as the Marquis for his supposed charm and deceitful ways are arguably not very convincing and evokes no sense of danger. However, his performance as a turned desperate man was compelling and ultimately was his strength in the film.
LADY J is a slow burn. For the first act of the film, the initial relationship between the Marquis and Madame de La Pommeraye felt both pulled along and stitched together by the Madame’s rendezvous with her friend Lucienne. But once the plot thickens LADY J is quite the ride, and the more time that goes by since I watched it the more it seems worth the recommendation.
LADY J arrives on Netflix March 8, 2019.