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This is a very rare movie,very rare on the screens and it deserves to be brought out of oblivion.Adapting Alexandre Dumas,Abel Gance did fifty years ago what Patrice Chéreau would do -with questionable results- in the nineties with "la reine Margot" itself a remake of a Jean Dreville film ,which was released at the same time as Gance's "la tour de Nesle".Do not forget that that director was a pioneer ,a visionary whose most famous works ("Napoleon" "j'accuse" ) are as important as Griffith's for American cinema.
First thing to bear in mind is that THAT Marguerite,heroine of Gance's work, is not Marguerite de Navarre who married HENRI IV ,but another one ,who lived in the 14th century,Marguerite de Bourgogne.As for the historical events ,well, see at the end of the review.
"La tour de Nesles " is a color movie,which was rare in the French fifties.The settings are minimal but splendid and Gance lovingly films reflections of the lugubrious tower and its horrors in the blue-green waters of the Seine.This tower where the Queen waits for her young lovers who are killed by her henchmen afterwards solves the equation of paradise and hell:this scene when the three gentlemen enter a sumptuous room -actually three bedrooms - where three gorgeous naked ladies are eagerly waiting for them, was very risqué for the time (nudities were extremely rare or they were furtive).Here Gance is really going for broke;and that's not all:this place of all delights suddenly becomes some kind of cage .
Abel Gance used to say that a melodrama was a failed tragedy:but personally I prefer a glorious melodrama to a boring tragedy;and "la tour de Nesles has everything that makes a melodrama worthwhile: orgies,treason,blood,love,adultery,humor,vividness -Pierre Brasseur is the stand-out - and even incest;it's also a swashbuckler ,a genre that will dominate the commercial French cinema in the wake of Gance's film in the 1955-1965 era .
The last lines of the movie are François Villon's immortal lines from his poem "ballade des dames du temps jadis"(second half of the fifteenth century).
Historical facts:this Queen who was doing away with her one -night lovers by throwing them into the Seine is probably pure legend.Marguerite de bourgogne was Philippe le Bel's daughter-in -law and that king was not quite a joker -neither was his son,here portrayed by Michel Bouquet as an idiot-.When he discovered that Marguerite was having a love affair with a gentleman,Philippe d'Aulnay -a character featured in the movie-,while her sister -in law ,Blanche was in love with his brother Gauthier (also featured)he was merciless;the two brothers were -ouch!- flayed alive and Marguerite was strangled in her dungeon.It's interesting to compare the brothers' real fate with their role in Dumas's play.As for Buridan (Pierre Brasseur),they say he was a professor at university who had an affair with the queen ,actually the starting point of the bloody legend.
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