La Reine Margot

(Queen Margot , France - 1994)

by Mike Lorefice

Cast: Isabelle Adjani, Daneil Auteuil, Jean Hugues-Anglade, Vincent Perez, Virna Lisi, Claudio Amendola, Dominique Blanc, Pascal Greggory, Asia Argento, Thomas Kretschmann
Genre: Drama
Director: Patrice Chéreau
Screenplay: Daniele Thompson, Patrice Chéreau, based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas, sr.
Cinematography: Philippe Rousselot
Composer: Goran Bregovic
Runtime: 162 minutes

This film was nominated for countless awards in France, but the reason it's so good is the near flawless Isabelle Adjani. The ageless wonder, who was around 38 at the time the film was made yet is still credible starting out as a girl in her late teens (she looks like about the most stunning 23-year-old you'll ever see), won her fourth meilleure actrice (Best Actress) Cesar for her seething portrayal of the future queen who was torn between her conflicting loyalties to her family, husband she was forced to marry, country, and unattainable love. She's a woman that should have everything, but really has nothing. She's a slut, but she won't sleep with her husband. Although this role was not going to give her the opportunity of surpassing her portrayal of Camille Claudel, one of the best actress performances of all-time, it was still quite a hefty task with so many different relationships and levels of emotion spanning a long period of time. It's not a wordy movie, but that's all the better because Adjani's facials are as impressive as her face.

The affair between Adjani & Perez has been criticized, but I can't understand why. They are not supposed to truly come together. How can they when society has placed a wall between them? Sure, they can spend some nights with one another, but they both know that's as far as it can go and they play it as such. Whether Adjani leaves with Auteuil for Perez's homeland of Navarre or not, she is still married royalty and he is still her subject. They both know he's the one she never should have had. Perez even says it at one point, which I don't believe is a case of stating the plot because it points out how messed up that society is. It's more acceptable for her to have incestuous relationships with her brothers than it is for a Catholic to have intercourse with an evil Protestant. The whole movie is rightfully fatalistic.

Perez is largely forgettable to heterosexual males, with failures from Africa to the City Of Angels. While we are Talking Of Angels, that one was even worse (should have been straight to PAX but even in this mess Frances McDormand managed to shine) since casting some of Spain's finest actresses like Penelope Cruz & Marisa Paredes doesn't do any good if you don't give them anything to do and instead "focus" on a lifeless, motivationless romance with useless Polly Walker. That said, while Perez has by far the easiest role of any of the key players and is still by far the least impressive, he does find the right balance between desire and reality in the love scenes and displays the right amount of intensity throughout.

The film, adapted from the well-known Alexandre Dumas novel, is based on actual events; in particular the Saint Bartholemew's Day Massacre of 1572 and the subsequent politics and betrayals of Charles IX's court. The film has been criticized for not explaining its characters and their relationships, but it's made for an audience who should be familiar with French history. Would any American reviewer mark a Nixon movie down for not devoting enough time to explaining J. Edgar Hoover so that a French person who has never studied American history would know exactly who he was? Of course not, they would all say everyone should already know what Hoover did. I don't profess to have any particular knowledge of French history, but I for one had absolutely no problem following this movie. That said, truth is not always as interesting as fiction. Even in the truncated American release, the film was near 2 ½ hours of power plays. Still, the film doesn't drag because Adjani is mesmerizing and her support is almost excellent across the board.

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The supporting cast is headed by Daniel Auteuil, who boasts nine Meilleur acteur (Best Actor) Cesar nominations since 1987 and is considered by many to be France's best actor during this time period, as protestant Henri de Navarre. He has a way of making an off kilter character memorable and a flawed one sympathetic. His Stephane should be the poster boy for lack of communication, and who could forget his Ugolin? Here, surrounded by Catholics, he's more cerebral because one false move will likely cost him his life. Jean-Hughes Anglade (won best supporting actor) plays Charles IX as a pitiful weakling who grows up considerably during the film, but still can't come close to grasping his power by the throat. He really shines in the end, and it's not because of the blood he's sweating. Virna Lisi (won best supporting actress) plays an ambitious, dominating, and conniving Catherine of Medici. She has been given some of the best lines and was impressive, but the jury at Cannes must have been higher than the sky to give her best actress over Adjani. The part has like 1/10th the difficulty, and she's like the fifth most prominent performer in the movie in terms of screen time. Dominique Blanc also got a supporting actress nomination as Adjani's giggling, spying servant. Trilingual Asia Argento brings all her charm to a smaller role as a countess who is there for Adjani & Auteiul's wedding and wants to have a one-night stand with him.

The French are good at period pieces, and with director Patrice Chereau's extensive stage credits, you knew this would be no exception. The costumes (award winning) and production design (nominated) were top notch. They really help some of the party type scenes that in points were otherwise kind of lacking.

Philippe Rousselot won Meilleure photographie (Best Cinematography), but I don't think his work was that exceptional. That said, there are two outstanding long scenes. The first is a long massacre scene that is as graphic as Braveheart (fittingly horrendous) and finishes with a Holocaust inspired dumping of the dead bodies into a pit. The other is the boar hunt where Anglade is trapped under his horse and would be killed by the boar if not for a save by his least expected ally. The scenery certainly helped, but the camera sometimes seemed too prominent a player when the humans were involved. Still, the beauty he captures is a perfect contradiction to the debauchery being presented, and that's really the point of the movie. It was a time of much decadence, but not one whose reincarnation we long for.  




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