[The Marquise of O …] is a work of art so limpid and serene that one can hardly tell what it is about! Though there is no obscurity at all about the plot, the final impression created is not of a tale but of a mood or "music." The classic in this sense hides itself, it does not declare its point. It simply is….
Kleist both accepts and teases the moral standards of the time. Ever so gently set forth is the incalculability of human destiny and the childishness of our behavior in regard to it. What gives the picture its special quality is the sober beauty of every shot, movement, setting, costume, performance. There is hardly any emphasis of detail: every moment is complete in itself. If the narration were to be suddenly arrested we would still feel that we had become part of a living experience, equivocal and fascinating like so much which goes unnoticed in our day-to-day traffic.
A German critic has found something of Kafka in Kleist. For my part, I find the film's "surface," pictorially and dramatically, so direct, burnished and light, that it eludes explanation while it says all.
Harold Clurman, "Films & Plays: 'The Marquise of O …'," in The Nation (copyright 1976 The Nation Associates, Inc.), Vol. 223, No. 15, November 6, 1976, p. 475.