There is indeed a girl (and death) in Jos Stelling’s lovely-looking, somewhat laborious 19th-century period melodrama, the umpteenth cinematic riff on Alexandre Dumas’s The Lady of the Camellias. The lady is Elise (Sylvia Hoeks), a kept woman living at a country hotel thanks to the attentions of a rich duke (Dieter Hallervorden). Her path crosses with that of young Russian physician Nicolai (Leonid Bichevin), a handsome suitor green in the ways of love and life; he’s smitten at first sight. Elise’s jealous benefactor, however, isn’t going to give her up easily.
The film takes place primarily at the hotel over the course of several decades, and Stelling makes the most of the locale. A gorgeous early sequence scored to Chopin gives us a full layout of the stage on which this love story unfolds—a secluded getaway decked out in antique furnishings and old-world attitudes. Soon enough, we’re attuned to every creak of the floorboards, and the oddball characters who populate the place—from a hilariously disinterested bellhop to an aging prostitute who serves as Nicolai’s go-between—feel like old friends.
It’s unfortunate that Stelling and his cast aren’t able to lift the story much above mawkishness. If you’ve seen Greta Garbo’s classic Camille (1936)—also inspired by Dumas’s book—you know that tragedy is in the offing. Yet this latest iteration, though consistently watchable, never plucks the heartstrings in the way of a great star-crossed romance.
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