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Frédéric van den Driessche,
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Laura Duke Condominas,
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Let me start off by saying most folk I know are going to hate this film. I'll go one further: most human beings will hate this film. Rohmer has taken the Parsifilian myth and in translating it for the screen has created a hybrid form of storytelling combing the artifice and conventions of the world of theatre with the continuity we've grown accustomed to in the world of cinema. For some freaks (like yours truly) the wedding of these two formats works in an almost otherworldly manner making it quite unlike any film one is likely to see. Although combining elements of several of the Parsifal legends, Rohmer's retelling seems more centered on Chrétien de Troyes story than von Eisenbach's epic, endless poem.
Visually here, at least Rohmer remains in the world of theatre: the sets are often painted flats, or small scale models that suggest or are more representational of the tale's locations than they are visual recreations typically found in film. There are trees constructed of metal, and myriad other odd touches to the set, all of which seems to be on an enormous stylized turntable or disc that revolves as the story progresses. The film is often narrated by a group of madrigal singers who, with their ancient instruments, wander in and out of the picture (and the story) adding commentary and observation serving a function in the manner of a Greek chorus. The effect is charming adding a further medieval, church mystery quality unifying the disparate elements of Rohmer has chosen for his storytelling. Conversely, it is also one of the elements that will annoy the hell out of many viewers.
Rohmer's telling of the tale is primarily centered with the young Perceval's fascination with the world of knights and his desire to enter their world chivalrous universe. In the title role Fabrice Luchini portrays the young novice with a typically cool French sense of detachment, and arrogance yet somehow manages to balance it all with humility and honor. Fearlessly he passes through all of his trials and in the process shows that arrogance is not always wed with pride; when one's right and aware of his skill and abilities, he needn't be boastful. It's a fascinating portrayal.
Interestingly, and more honestly than most Arthurian films Rohmer suggests more of the turmoil, weakness and near dissolution of Arthur's court than its glory. The young knight's stint at the castle, his integrity and eye for honesty wins the day earning him glory.
Rohmer's pushing of the tale to include Sir Gawain's story moves naturally adding a deeper level to this Arthurian tale, as well as reminding us of the complexity, intertwining, and timelessness of all of these legends.
Even those who may not like will not argue that visually Rohmer has created a world that is often breathtakingly beautiful. Indeed, many of the shots feel as though they'd dropped to us from glorious tapestry hanging from a damp castle wall.
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