A particularly bloody battle between haves and have-nots brought down the reign of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette while it cavorted in the face of its miserable citizens -- "the peasants are boring." France was mired in debt, starvation, and bread riots.
Monsieur Hire, The Hairdresser's Husband, and The Widow of St Pierre (among many others) has a new film due in April, his first in English, A Promise, described by one reviewer as so-so viewing for the Masterpiece crowd, with Alan Rickman, Rebecca Hall, and Richard Madden. But Leconte's edgiest work is Ridicule. It combines elements of Les Miserables and Dangerous Liaisons into a taut fable about the .01% of the top 1%'s self-referential obsessions at court in the years leading up to revolution in 1789. Leconte's scriptwriting team, headed by Rémi Waterhouse, seeds plots, sub-plots, and passing chatter with rapier wit.
Charles Berling, shown above, right), whose peasants are dying from exposure to his mosquito-filled swamps located in an area of France called the Dombes. (The water pools had been created centuries earlier for fishing but had become disease breeding grounds.) The earnest baron is headed to Paris to persuade King Louis to help reconvert the swamps to tillable farm land.
Jean Rochefort, shown two photos up), Bellegarde has a beautiful daughter Mathilde, (Judith Godrèche, above), a Rousseau-esque back-to-nature girl and budding scientist who is developing diving equipment for underwater study. She and Gregoire are a perfect match, but she engages herself to a very rich, old courtier who agrees, in exchange for two visits a month to his future wife's bed, to support her scientific research.
Fanny Ardant, above). She intends to replace her lover and priest, L'Abbe de Vilecourt, with the young baron and to assist her protege's access to King Louis. In addition to paying court to Mme Blayac, Gregoire takes on the Byzantine palace bureaucracy, being thwarted at every turn until Blayac begins pulling strings. Many comic (and not so) plot turns occur, in which Gregoire's love pangs, conscience, and fortunes rise and plummet until he finally wises up to the hopeless, endless cruelty of the court. His efforts there end in a fall at a ball. It bookends the Milletail vignette that prefaced the story, but Gregoire, who has more experience of life than the fools at court, takes nothing lying down.