English/Belgian/Dutch/Luxembourgian coproductions don't happen every day, making Villa des Roses
of interest from the start. Director Frank van Passel focuses on the pain of remembering in this drama set at the turn of World War I, in which young French widow Louise comes to work as a chambermaid at a dilapidated English guest house. What could have been an offbeat human comedy soon becomes a conventional romantic tragedy, in which the heroine falls for rakish artist Richard Grünewald, with all the frustration and heartache their liaison promises.
Julie Delpy is strong on wistful charm, while Shaun Dingwall gives a confident performance. Timothy West and Harriet Walter are characterful as the ill-matched proprietors, but the most memorable showing is that of Shirley Henderson as streetwise "cook general" Ella. The other guests are little more than a background presence, their narrative potential unused. This is stylish film-making, even if an overall feeling of Anna Karenina meets Upstairs Downstairs is hard to escape.
On the DVD: Villa des Roses' widescreen format reproduces the film's faded elegance with commendable naturalness, though the sombre half-lights and Paul M van Brugge's moody score make Paris seem anything but "gay". The theatrical trailer is also included. --Richard Whitehouse
"A fine cast matched by excellent décor and atmosphere" -- The Mail on Sunday
"Recommended to anyone who liked Delicatessen
" -- The Independent
a mannered style and dry humour reminiscent of Amelie
" -- Uncut
it has fireworks in its heart. The performances are exquisite." -- Edinburgh Evening News