THE PRINCESSE DE MONTPENSIER - Aristocrat or not, men are all alike…April 27, 2011

THE PRINCESSE DE MONTPENSIER - Aristocrat or not, men are all alike…

Sundance Selects

On Demand Weekly provides new movie reviews of hot movies on demand from the POV of watching from the comfort of your home. Today’s review: THE PRINCESSE DE MONTPENSIER (Sundance Selects).


- Aristocrat or not, men are all alike…
By Cynthia Kane
THE PRINCESSE DE MONTPENSIER is the latest historical drama from Bertrand Tavernier, and no one living does this cinematic genre better. Ok, there is Ermanno Olmi from Italy, but his films are never widely released here in the States. Or Im Kwon-taek from South Korea or Zhang Yimou from China.

Here Tavernier gives us a sumptuous story while transporting us to another place and time plus giving us a little history lesson all at once.

Based on a classic novel by a certain Madame de la Fayette, the story deals with a young woman, Marie de Mézières (Melanie Thierry) who passionately loves Henri, Duc de Guise (Gaspard Ulliel), a young, aristocratic hothead, dangerous and as beautiful as she is.

Unfortunately for Marie, her father arranges for her marriage to another young man, Prince Philippe de Monpensier (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet), an aristocrat of higher standing, closer in line to the monarchy (which is run by the Queen Mother, Catherine de’ Medici and her sons, not clear here whether it’s Francois II or Charles IX that’s king; doesn’t matter, “Maman” still rules.)

While Marie protests, there’s nothing she can do, it’s marriage or be locked up in a convent; thus marriage ensues. Soon the young Prince is called to war and he calls upon his former-mentor, Comte de Chabannes (Lambert Wilson) to watch over her, to make certain she behaves while he’s gone and even teach her a bit so she wont embarrass him at court.

Quickly Marie becomes an apt pupil, demanding to learn to read and write Latin, and even middle-aged Chabannes is entranced. In fact everyone who meets Marie desires her… for her beauty, her grace, her intelligence.

De Guise reappears at the Montpensier chateau with the Prince d’Anjou (Raphaël Personnaz), heir to the throne and third son of Catherine de’ Medeci; oh, there’s plenty of boyish interaction vying for Marie’s attention. She remains steadfast and loyal to her husband, yet refuses to fade into the background. She’s a young woman who holds her own.

At this point, young Montpensier really could win over his lovely wife, but returning from war, he smothers her with jealousy as his seriously-lacking male ego can’t find it within himself to trust her. It only gets worse when they arrive at the royal court and she once again meet de Guise, this time not able or wanting to resist.

But this is not the end of the story, and I surely will not give it away here.

What’s truly terrific about this film is the feel of honesty and aliveness about these characters and their circumstances, while it’s very clearly set and entrenched in a “version” of French history. Tavernier’s modern in approach and yet respectful to the original story written in the 17th century.

Lambert Wilson in the role of Chabannes proves he’s simply one of the best French actors (see him in OF GODS AND MEN, recently released through Sony Pictures Classics and which competed against THE PRINCESSE DE MONTPENSIER at Cannes 2010 for the Palme d’Or.) From a lesser talent, this part would have been secondary. Here we encounter a fully layered and fleshed-out man who speaks for Tavernier thematically as he comes to view war, but especially war dealing with religion as wasteful, horrific and wrong.


Earlier Tavernier films, LIFE AND NOTHING BUT and CAPITAINE CONAN (other must-see’s) illustrate this point of pacifism even further. But this is a film about youth and love and lust and folly. And within that we’re introduced to a new generation of actors that gives me great hope a whole new generation of Francophile-cinemaphiles and a chance to see more of these kinds films again on big screens in the U.S.

The intense and lusty young cast has a vibrancy that you rarely associate with period, costume dramas – another mark of Tavernier: great casting. Interesting note is that few of the actors had any experience riding horses prior to filming; and some of the best cinematography was captured on camera-mounts on motorcycles shooting the scenes on horseback.


An excellent movie night to screen with PdM is the 1994 Patrice Chéreau film, QUEEN MARGOT, with Isabelle Adjani in the titles role, set during this time of the bloody conflict between the Catholics and the Hugenots, and where’ll you’ll even meet a few of the characters that you’ve gotten to know here: de Guise, Catherine de’ Medici, Prince d’Anjou, etc.

After these films, French history will never seem dull or dusty again.

Tavernier is a veteran filmmaker in the best sense. I mentioned his expertise in this genre, but looking at his body of work over 40+ years, one wonders if there’s not a genre he cannot master.


- Cynthia Kane

Cynthia Kane reviews documentaries for On Demand Weekly. She is a writer and Sr Programming Manager for [ ITVS], overseeing the International Initiative for funding in their SF office. Prior she’s had many incarnations from actor to writer to producer. She co-created DOCday on Sundance Channel.


Look for THE PRINCESSE DE MONTPENSIER (ESundance Selects) under your cable system's On Demand section.

Read Other Reviews By Cynthia Kane:









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