According to an interview included in the film’s press notes, 79-year-old Jacques Rivette sought a visual style for The Duchess of Langeais (aka Don’t Touch the Axe) that mirrored the prose style of his source material, a novella by Andre Balzac. Not being a specialist on the acclaimed realist author, I can’t assess whether this aim is successfully realized, but the lush, expressive cinematographic design of Rivette’s latest is not enough to energize his torpid early 19th-century tale of frustrated romance. There’s much to admire in the abstract about Rivette’s style, from his gorgeously refined compositions, to his measured camera pans, to his use of windows and doorways as thematically charged framing devices. But the more concrete reaction elicited by Duchess – a theatrically staged story about the ill-fated back-and-forth romantic games played by French general Armand de Montriveau (Guillaume Depardieu) and the Duchess Antoinette de Langeais (Jeanne Balibar) – is trying tedium, as the French master resolutely seeks to generate pent-up passion and tension by avoiding any ounce of liveliness (or even breathing space). Well acted and aesthetically attractive, the film remains by and large inert, doing less to rouse the mind or heart than to simply stir up an urge to check one’s watch.