Mademoiselle de Joncquières specializes in foreplay

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      Starring Cécile de France. In French, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable

      Like the super refined, prerevolutionary French aristocrats who dance around each other with endless verbal foreplay, the perfectly paced Mademoiselle de Joncquières takes its time in revealing its hidden, if ultimately ambivalent, motivations.

      The beautifully staged film, mostly shot in softly filtered daylight with a palette that favours pastel blues and dusty rose, doesn’t even introduce the title character until halfway in. First, we must witness the full life cycle of a heated affair between Madame de La Pommeraye (The New Pope’s Cécile de France), a beautiful widow with a vast estate, and the Marquis des Arcis (Edouard Baer, far from playing Asterix to Gérard Depardieu’s Obelix). He’s an aging playboy famous for losing interest soon after making whatever conquest he was obsessively keen on.

      After a six-month campaign of infinitely gentle persuasion, she gives in, and it all clicks—for a couple of years. Then, as she confides to her childhood friend (Call My Agent’s Laure Calamy), she’s starting to feel neglected. Urged to be honest, she goes the opposite route, feigning her own disinterest to get a reaction. She gets one.

      Later, our mad madame sees the opportunity to set up a dangerous liaison between her ex-beau and a stunning young woman she drafts into a long-form plot. Played by Alice Isaaz, this is the daughter of Madame de Joncquières (Natalia Dontcheva), a fellow royal who fell on very hard times after getting jilted by a big shot who got her pregnant. This ploy represents their return to the bigs; for the marquis, it should be a teachable moment about letting one’s little head make choices for the big one. But does anyone care what the daughter wants?

      Director Emmanuel Mouret’s endlessly witty script draws on the same source material, from 18th-century playwright and libertine Denis Diderot, that gave rise to classic postwar films by Jacques Rivette and Robert Bresson. He does nothing to modernize the material, supported here by a dazzling array of period harpsichord music, and doesn’t need to. The borders between friendship, love, and betrayal have always been hard to delineate, let alone redraw, no matter how well people can talk.