Sacha Guitry died in 1957 and he did not know whether he would finish his movie...He wanted Henri-Georges Clouzot to replace him should he disappear before his work was over.
It was not to be fortunately .It's Guitry's legacy,and it's a delight.Try to see the two movies ("Si Versailles m'était conté and "Si Paris" ) one after the other.They are both witty films ,full of humor -this humor which the Nouvelle Vague did not know- of puns,of anachronisms,of likely stories and historical games.
Guitry's plan was to tell the tale of Paris.Five students come to his house and tell the writer/director history they are taught in their schools is a big bore .As if they were listening to Sheherazade they begin to listen...and we do too...
Unlike so many historical epics,Guitry's work is not linear ,going back and forth between past and present,mixing true historic lines (trial of Marie-Antoinette for instance) and scenes of his own devising (Voltaire's armchair ) It's important to notice the presence of old people and of death in a movie which is a comedy: Guitry insists on the dying Voltaire, and on the centenarians (Fontenelle and the "Cocotte" (= courtezan)).In "Si Versailles..." the best sequences were those where King Louis XIV was getting old .Guitry himself was seriously ill at the time.
Guitry's art is often dazzling:he mixes music,songs (though the
part played by Gerard Philipp is rather bland),dance,mime (and Louis de Funès's talent burgeoning),paintings (Winterhalter's famous "Empress Eugenie and her ladies-in-waiting" suddenly becomes a lively sequence where those women complain about crinoline dresses)...
Many scenes take place in the Bastille ,and deal with its prisoners and the famous Lettres de Cachet which allowed the king to imprison whoever he wanted .Much to the Parisians' surprise after the storming of the prison,there were only seven prisoners then,including two madmen.
Guitry's takes clichés we used to find in old history books (and even still find today)and pushes them to absolute absurdity.Most of the time,it is brilliant: Henri the Fourth had a double (in case of assassination,cause his predecessor Henri the Third was murdered by a monk).When the king (the real king) is killed by Ravaillac,the "stuntman" runs to his mom and shouts :"At last!" Mother gives a sigh of relief "the nightmare's over!"
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