The visual choices writer-director Mary McGuckian made in creating “The Price of Desire” vie with the dramatic ones in a to-the-death fight over “How this movie was ruined?”
It’s a precious, obscure and emotionally flat melodrama about furniture designer and aspiring Irish architect Eileen Gray, and the ugly, personal tug-of-war over being credited for the modernist marvel of a house she designed with her then-lover, Romanian architect Jean Badovici.
The bone of contention between the established, older and bisexual Gray (Orla Brady) and Badovici (Francesco Scianna) isn’t her “other” lover, the singer Damia (Alanis Morissette). It is their house, E-1027, which they built on the Riviera and she put in his name. And the wild card, their friend and rival, the prissy Swiss architect, artist and swell Le Corbusier, picks at that open wound as he interferes, “decorates” and bitchily narrates (to the camera) this between-the-World Wars, and years-later, story.
The narration has the ring of “epistolary” about it, Le Corbusier (Vincent Perez) eyeing the high-born Irishwoman in her late 40s and purring, “I longed to act recklessly. But I could hear your heart was a different symphony.”
He didn’t think she liked guys, in other words, something he figures out as Damia sings “La Marseillaise” with a theatricality more suited to a French hockey arena than a night club.
Taking up with Badovici, the monied and accomplished furniture-for-the-filthy-rich designer Gray dreams of a house. “A beautiful work speaks more truth than the artist!”
They dabble with the idea of getting Le Corbusier to do the house, but they know he’ll steal the credit for “our” (mostly “her”) ideas.
“I’ve no objections to a woman’s touch,” he sneers. He’s got this “five part plan” of “pure modernism” that he applies to his designs. She’s looking for something open and airy, flat-roofed and functional, and austere.
When the house is finished, her relationship with Badovic is not long for this world, either. Because he invites the Cubist painter Le Corbusier to come in and paint Cubist phalluses and the like, in mural form, on her pure white walls.
Peeing all over it to mark his “turf?”
Credit for the house, ownership of the house, all of it, becomes murkier as time passes.
By the way, this plot summary, with its included links, does more to make sense of this murky mess than the screenplay ever does. McGuckian apparently expects everyone to play the players, the intrigues and the history coming in to “The Price of Desire.”
“The Price of Desire” is an indulgent, gauzy dream from memory, of Gray swanning around white rooms in white dresses uttering profundities in English and French — with white subtitles.
It’s as visually inane, austere and pretentious as its dialogue.
“I wonder which of your many accomplishments will be most remembered,” a wealthy sponsor and friend (Dominique Pinon from “Delicatessen”) asks.
“I prefer to DO things rather than POSSESS them,” the daughter of a baroness sniffs.
The Great Depression is barely glimpsed — a design boutique Gray ran (not explained, just glimpsed) closes. The only response of the insufferable rich aesthetes?
“Why don’t we take a trip?”
World War II? They fled, as the rich always do, to oases of privilege where they rode it out and fretted over who’d get credit for the house code-named E-1027.
I found the characters thin, the performances (save for Perez, brittle and scheming) as flat as the white-on-white images.
Any questions about why this washed-out, high-tone soap opera didn’t earn an American release when it was finished (2015) are thus answered and forgotten, the “true” “Price of Desire.”
Cast: Orla Brady, Vincent Perez, Francesco Scianna, Dominique Pinon and Alanis Morissette.
Credits: Written and directed by Mary McGuckian. A Little Film Company release.
Running time: 1:47