American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"Lady Chatterley" is a kinder, gentler version of the story most people know as "Lady Chatterley's Lover." It's based on an earlier version of D.H. Lawrence's once-scandalous novel, which had the too perfect title, John Thomas and Lady Jane. While involving Lawrence's approval of transcendent lust, the film also has a great deal of time for flowers, running water, closeups of hands and long shots of trees. Also of course for the class struggle, lustful sex and close attention to the genitals.
Let's begin with the genitals, or, as Groucho Marx called them, the netherlands. The story involves the young and fragrant Lady Connie Chatterley (Marina Hands) and her husband, Sir Clifford (Hippolyte Girardot), a wealthy mine owner who was paralyzed from the waist down in World War I. The movie's opening shot shows Connie waving goodbye from their country house as Clifford walks to his car and drives away, so we must assume they were married before the war. But Connie remains childless, and there is no heir to their estate.
Which leads us to questions involving the netherlands. Wandering the grounds lonely as a cloud, Connie comes upon the gamekeeper, Parkin (Jean-Louis Coullo'ch). He is sponging himself bare-chested, which inspires her (and us) to inspect her own naked body in a mirror. Life creeps quietly at the country house, where Sir Clifford seems to observe a daily word limit, and the housekeeper, Mrs. Bolton (Helene Alexandridis), says little, wrings her hands and has a look fraught with worry about everything.
But back to the netherlands. Connie and Parkin begin a love affair. Day after day, she goes flower collecting in the woods, and they meet in his hut to make love on the floor. One day, as he is undressing, she says, "Turn around," and she (and we) get a closeup of the netherlands' flagpole. Later, after sex, she views him again, and observes, "It's so funny how now it's only a little bud." Which leads to the conclusion that her sex education with Sir Clifford must have been sadly limited even before the war.