Thursday, April 14, 2011

Love, war and religion: Tavernier's PRINCESS OF MONTPENSIER opens

I'd see any movie by Bertrand Tavernier, usually more than once, and his latest -- THE PRINCESS OF MONTPENSIER -- is no exception, though my immediate reaction is to rank it in the lower sector of his films rather than the higher (Captain Conan, Ça commence aujourd'hui, Safe Conduct). This may be due to my being very tired when I saw it (a four-film day, of which it was the third -- though I must say that I perked up noticeably for the fourth film). A historical pageant of love and betrayal during the 16th century religious wars in France, the movie is gorgeous to view and offers some riveting battle scenes, both large & intimate.

M. Tavernier, shown at right, is a master at most genres he has attempted and, at the very least, good enough at the others. It's been awhile since he's given us an historical swashbuckler (remember the delightful Revenge of the Musketeers, aka D'Artagnan's Daughter?).  If his "Princess" initially looks like more of this swash, it is actually a good deal more serious in theme and execution, despite the sword-fights, horseback chases, and pile-up of corpses along the way.

The filmmaker has assembled a fine cast, all of whom handle period chores with flair and command. The lovely Mélanie Thierry (on poster, top, and above) plays the title princess, an intelligent young woman struggling with love, morals and the politics of the day. She's surrounded by many admirers, two of which come most heavily to the fore Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet (below, left, her eventual husband) and the "love of her life" (Gaspard Ulliel, below, right).

Though the princess is the title character, it's her tutor Lambert Wilson (below) who's the moral and emotional center of the film. M. Wilson, currently on U.S. screens in Of Gods and Men, is terrific, as usual: brave, grave and gorgeous, intelligent and caring. In addition, there is another intriguer, Raphaël Personnaz (as the semi-sleazy royalty, shown at bottom), who may indeed have a thing for our princess and most definitely has a thing for control.

Unfortunately, we're badgered continually with the would-be love affairs of the princess, and for all the fine acting, sets, costumes, cinematography and editing on display, these grow somewhat tedious before the film's 2 hours and 20 minutes are up. With nothing more than a hunch to go on, I wonder if Tavernier might have been a bit too true to the original material upon which the film is based (the short story by Madame de La Fayette, 1634–1693), rather than -- not updating it, certainly, but -- adapting it with more of an eye to modern sensibilities. As it is, we're continually made aware of the time period (and the place of women in that period), of the court intrigue and of parental control -- until we want to cry uncle: "We get it! OK?"

The Princess of Montpensier, from Sundance Selects,  open this Friday, April 15, in New York City at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and the IFC Center. It will open simultane-ously in the Los Angeles area at the Laemmle theaters' Royal, Music Hall 3, Playhouse 7 and Town Center 5.

 Look for a limited nationwide roll-out to follow in the weeks/
months to come. The film will also be available via VOD beginning April 20.

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