After the sexy cine-brat satire Irma Vepp and the perversely appealing Gallic navel-gazing of Late August, Early September, Olivier Assayas' latest marks a major change of direction - - and not necessarily for the best.
A period melodrama set in the first half of the 20th century, Les Destinées Sentimentales relates the troubled marriage between Protestant minister Jean (Charles Berling) and a spirited younger woman, Pauline (Emmanuelle Béart). Among the obstacles are Jean's first, very bitter wife (Isabelle Huppert), World War One, and Jean's eventual obsession with saving the family business.
The foregrounding of a marriage against half a century of French history is a fine idea in principle, but Assayas is too reverential both to his literary source and the genre. It means that despite looking sumptuous, three rambling hours spent dwelling on miserable people takes its toll.