Lady Chatterley (French)

Look, nobody’s saying you can’t make a three-hour movie if you want to. But here’s what we generally expect from an epic-length picture: a story with enough meat to require the extra time, or characters whose personalities benefit from extended scrutiny. Preferably both, actually.

Take “The Godfather,” for example. Maybe it’s not fair to compare something to one of the greatest films ever made, but hey, you gotta aim high. “The Godfather” uses almost every one of its 175 minutes to cover its fairly complex story line, its multiple characters, and the multi-facted personalities of the central figures. No one minds the running time because it’s being put to good use.

Then there’s “Lady Chatterley,” the new French adaptation of the famously smutty D.H. Lawrence novel (although this one is based on his earlier, less naughty version). It runs 168 minutes, and for what?

The story is whisper-thin. The title character (Marina Hands) is the bored wife of an aristocrat, Clifford (Hippolyte Girardot), who is invalid and impotent as the result of fighting in the Great War. (That’s what they called World War I before they knew there was going to be a World War II, you know.) The Chatterleys live on a lush estate with plenty of servants, and Mrs. C doesn’t have much to occupy her days. Or her nights, for that matter, with Clifford incapacitated.

She begins a friendship with the gamekeeper, Parkin (Jean-Louis Coulloc’h), a virile, lower-class man who treats her respectfully as the boss’ wife until it goes beyond that and they’re rooting around on the wooden floor of his shack. He can give her what her husband can’t: sex.

The story is entirely Lady Chatterley’s, and while Marina Hands plays the role well, there simply isn’t enough here. Devoting three hours to her isn’t any more rewarding than two hours would have been.

Director Pascale Ferran (the first woman to adapt this story for the screen) nicely conveys the gradual loosening-up of the adulterous couple’s affair. Their first encounter is fully clothed; by the end, they’re walking around nude, completely comfortable with one another. Ferran introduces emotional tension into the few scenes that feature all three leads, too.

Still, tighter editing would improve the film’s overall impact dramatically. Some films benefit from shutting up and letting you contemplate things along with the characters. This is not one of them. This is a film that keeps feeling like it wants to go somewhere, but constantly drags its feet to avoid getting there.

C (2 hrs., 48 min.; French with subtitles; Not Rated, probably R for a lot of nudity, a lot of fairly strong sexuality.)