Lovers of 19th-century French literature and contemporary French cinema will probably get the most out of this 210-minute march through the sensual life of Honoré de Balzac. Those not familiar with the work of this spectacularly prolific writer might be disappointed, since this biopic only touches on the great works in a cursory way. Several times throughout the narrative, the great author hears a few sentences, gets a faraway look in his eyes, and says, "You know, that would make a great story..." before dashing offscreen to his study, presumably to deliver yet another masterpiece. This French-made small-screen production is dominated by the charismatic presence of Gerard Depardieu, who taxes his skills to seem as spectacularly fat and physically unattractive as the legendary writer and lover of women. Practically all the actual lovemaking takes place offscreen; onscreen, impassioned oration is the order of the day. Depardieu is almost matched monologue for monologue by an even greater French star, Jeanne Moreau, who plays his brooding, eternally unsatisfied mother with an unchanging icy grandeur. Ridicule's Fanny Ardant shows a far greater development of character as Countess Eve Hanska, the indecisive Russian noblewoman who steals Balzac's heart and inspires his greatest work--while footing the bill for the excesses of his grandiose lifestyle. --Grant Balfour
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