This languid, sprawling period drama represents a change of pace from director Olivier Assayas' usual, ultra-contemporary subject matter, but retains the auteur's emphasis on long-suffering romance presented in a uniquely modern, resolutely unsentimental style. For much of its first hour, Destinees shunts from character to character before finding its momentum with the central relationship between priggish heir Jean (Charles Berling) and his luminous new bride, Pauline (Emmanuelle Béart). While the passion quotient is understandably low, Béart manages to suggest a reserve of hope and understanding; frustrated by her husband at every turn, she remains true to him, even as Assayas' interpretation slyly insinuates that Jean is not worth her time. In this respect, Assayas' strengths as a "woman's director" work against Destinees' complex rise-and-fall-of-the-family-business subplot, which never engages on an emotional level. Much like Jean himself, the film seems to peter out in its last third, but throughout, Assayas seems determined to keep the material relevant, incorporating raw bursts of emotion and even some cinéma vérité stylization into what is by and large a sumptuous costume drama.
by Michael Hastings review