Balzac: A Life of Passion

Last night we watched Balzac: A Life of Passion starring Gerard Depardieu as 19th Century author Honore de Balzac. Turned out this wasn’t a movie but a 2-part mini-series which, I assume, originally broadcast on French television. As such it was about 3 hours long. Now for someone as flighty as me, 3 hours of sub-titles can be quite a challenge, but I found myself completely captivated.

The film is aptly titled in that it was more or less a straight-forward biography. Balzac was a driven writer but in many ways his life was rather uneventful. He wrote, he loved, he died. He was a schemer whose schemes invariably fell apart, and we see this aspect of him, portrayed in a bittersweetly amusing way.

But my point is, if you’re looking for action and adventure, this isn’t the place to find it. But from the point of view of trying to understand who this man was, and what the times were like when he lived, its wonderful. I was particularly struck by the age of many of the characters. At the start, Balzac has a mistress much older than he is. And by then end both he and the woman he loves have aged quite a bit. Obviously the film was based on real events so they couldn’t very well make Balzac and Eve 20-year-old lovers, but still it was refreshing to see a story in which people over the age of 30 still fall in love and desire one another.

One of Balzac’s life-long friends was Victor Hugo (played here by Gert Voss) and I was intrigued by him as well. Also we get the briefest sketches of Eve Hanska and I’d love to learn more about her. We get these intriguing glimpses of a curious blend of devout religious beliefs and an almost pagan superstitionism. I want to know more!

The sets and costumes were wonderful. The sets weren’t really lavish, but rather than show huge swathes of Europe in the early-mid 1800’s they focused on a limited number of locales but did them very well. But the clothes did seem lavish and, to my layman’s eyes, quite authentic.

I must be honest and admit that I’d never heard of Honore de Balzac before seeing the film. Now I’m quite interested in him, and intend to pick up a biography written not too long ago, as well as a few of his books. I’m finding these films about authors (saw Henry and June not too long ago) to be quite inspiring.

A Short Biography of Balzac