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Back in 1994 La Reine Margot' dispensed of every preconceived notion of
traditional costume drama, bringing a radical and shocking slant on history.
The lavish sets and costumes remained but the atmosphere was now tainted
with bloodshed, poison, lust and incest. The regal palaces that were so
stereotypically populated by loyal subjects are transformed into a viper's
nest of power politics, schemes and deceit where royal heritage counts for
little and deviousness is the key to success.
The year is 1572; France is torn apart amidst the conflict between Catholics and Protestants whilst the King is a mere puppet, first to his domineering, Catholic, mother (Catherine de Medici, played with superlative coldness by Virna Lisi) and later to the protestant leader Coligny. In a half hearted effort to bring peace to the land Catherine marries off her daughter Margot (Isabelle Adjani) to the protestant Henri de Navarre (Daniel Auteuil), a political manoeuvre that deludes no one. Margot and Henri are certainly a less than content couple; as they walk down the aisle they engage in a hissing match with one another where Margot succinctly informs him that Just because we're married it doesn't mean I have to sleep with you' and suggests he steer clear of her bedroom. They also fail to adhere to any form of decorum during the wedding reception; whilst Henri brawls with the Catholics (and flirts with a very youthful Asia Argento, of xXx fame) Margot goes window shopping amongst the male guests, looking for a viable one night stand. When the wedding guests prove unsatisfactory she simply dons a mask and takes to the streets, masquerading as a prostitute, and continues her search amongst the hordes of Protestant soldiers, who have gathered for her wedding, eventually settling on the dour La Mole (Vincent Perez). However any illusions of peace are shattered after a botched attempt to assassinate Coligny, as the Catholics, fearing a revolt, slaughter 6,000 Protestants in what becomes known as the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre.
The sheer horror of the massacre is reproduced with unflinching realism by director Patrick Chireau, who manages not only to shock but also recreate an atmosphere of utter chaos, exemplified by the moment when Margot is wandering amongst the palace corridors which have been besieged by soldiers and are strewn with corpses (Margot is curtly told return to your room and lock the door'). Unfortunately some of the impact of the massacre is lost due to the fact that we know barely any of the characters who are being murdered and it begs credibility that the Protestants seemingly put up no resistance. One of the few survivors of the slaughter is La Mole, who is saved by Margot when he breaks into her chamber, looking for sanctuary, which Margot freely gives to him (and more). In the aftermath of the massacre Margot also manages to save Henri de Navarre, forging a valuable alliance in the process. However, suspicion has been aroused that she is a traitor and she finds that she is in a decidedly vulnerable position where her only hope of freedom is to flee to Navarre with Henri.
Isabelle Adjani, France's premier actress, delivers one of her finest performances as the stubborn and promiscuous Margot, who despite initially coming across as vain and conceited later earns our sympathy as she finds herself in an impossible situation, where her position in the royal family is of little consequence (her brothers love her in a perversely incestuous way and her mother sees her as an inconvenience and potential threat to her authority) and the threat of assassination always looms around the corner. Whilst the political manoeuvrings and power struggles are intriguing the same cannot be said for the tepid romance between Adjani and Perez. The pair lacks any chemistry; even their scenes of erotic passion come across as frigid and awkward. They make an attractive couple, but not a particularly convincing one.
La Reine Margot is also one of the most visually sumptuous films ever released; the big budget clearly didn't go to waste in recreating the gothic decadence of the period and the costumes were deservingly nominated for an Oscar. It's easy to view La Reine Margot' as a precursor to the acclaimed 1998 film Elizabeth', as both centre around a female historical figure who has to endure the conflict between Catholics and Protestants whilst surviving assassination attempts (usually via poison) and overcome tragedy as those who they care for are systematically murdered. Indeed if nothing else La Reine Margot' provides a chilling insight into one of history's most horrific atrocities and offers an unsettling portrait of the moral bankruptcy that pervaded throughout 16th century society.
My Score: 8 out of 10
Alexandre Dumas should certainly be satisfied with this superb adaptation of his classic. The setting is excellent and it gives a wonderful image of 16th century France. Naturally the highlight of the movie is the re-enactment of the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre. The horrendous scenes of the murders in all their crudity are terrific. The actors did a wonderful job here. Isabelle Adjani is, as usual, terrific. Her nude scenes, depicting the queen's adultery, lust and incestuous affairs are acted in such a way that they are a form of art. Vincent Perez is in one of his best roles - his interpretation of La Môle is second only to his acting in "Indochine". The great Virna Lisi is simply marvellous posing as Cathérine de Médicis - no wonder she won the Best Actress Award at Cannes. She is the ambitious woman par excellence, stopping at nothing to get where she wants, not even if she has to see her sons being killed one by one and sell her daughter in a convenient marriage to unite the Catholics and the Protestants. The others, especially Asia Argento, impersonating the tragic countess Charlotte de Sauve did a good job too. A very well deserved Prix du Jury.
Everything about this picture is beautiful, even the ugliness is
beautiful...an oxymoron, but the only way I can describe it. This is a
stunning tale of 16th century sex and violence, with a dirty realism, but
still an overlay of beauty.
Isabelle Adjani is intense, beautiful, and sensuous as Margot, the highly sexed, intelligent and dutiful sister of the doomed King Charles IX of France. She is forced into a marriage of political and religious convenience by her bitterly ambitious mother, Catherine de Medici (Virna Lisi) to the repulsive Henri Navarre (sympathetically played by Daniel Auteuil). There is a tremendous amount going on, and Margot's incest with her brothers is more than hinted at.
The searingly sensual Vincent Perez plays La Mole, who eventually becomes Margot's doomed lover. Their first encounter is an acrobatic feat of anonymous sex in an alleyway that is breath-taking. Their later love scenes are intensely erotic. This film only becomes better on repeat viewings. I found I was able to grasp more on my second viewing. There is so much going on, so many twists and turns and shocks, and the film is also quite long. It never lags, and even Margot's grudging tolerance, if not love, for her husband, is believingly portrayed. Very highly recommended.
For the American people that have seen this excellent French movie, I will say just one thing: in many countries around the world we get to see movies from abroad with subtitles. Most of the movies that we see in South American countries come either from North America or Europe and we don't usually complain about the subtitles. Only kids movies are dubbed in Spanish. A great part of the romance or charm about French movies comes from the fact that they are actually spoken in French. Nobody in these films expects the rest of the world to understand as they speak but to make a little effort and appreciate the beauty in each language is something I think is missing in American culture. I've seen nothing but comments on how difficult it was for some members of the American public to understand this film. I only ask myself: in times of globalization, isn't it interesting to learn from people from other parts of the world in their own language, specially a French film based on a French novel by the French Alexandre Dumas, placed in the 16th century, directed by one of France's best directors and acted by some of the most wonderful French actors and actresses of the last decades? Would you want to see this film in English? Sorry, but I think you would be missing a great deal of the depth and emotion of this unique film!!!
French dynastic history in the late 16th century does not seem a promising subject for a film, but Patrice Chereau, a prominent French stage director, has teased out some personal drama out of the larger historical picture, and provided a vivid and absorbing tale. The story itself is adapted from Alexandre Dumas' novel, which is a pretty highly colored piece to begin with. Chereau theatrically plasters the set with blood and gore, and we are left in no doubt that an atrocity has occurred (the St Bartholomew's day massacre of the Hugenots.) The mendacious Queen Mother, Catherine di Medici, and her weak-minded son, Charles IX, seem to have set it off to deal with the protestant problem without realizing how bad it might get.
In all this horror is the rather cute tale of the relationship between two disparate personalities thrown together in marriage, Catherine's daughter Margo and Henry of Navarre (later Henry IV of France, and one of its better kings). Margo is repulsed at first sight by Henry `the peasant' while Henry rightly regards her as about as loving as a trapped tiger. Yet they reach an accommodation and finish up friends. Both have other lovers (and both respect that) but neither can prevent the lovers from coming to sticky ends.
It's always a bit hard to assess the acting when you are relying on sub-titles (if only the French didn't speak so fast) but Isabella Adjani at the age of 40 pulled off a remarkable job and had me convinced she really was a spoilt, willful little nymphomaniac in her early 20's. She looked as young as she did in the `Story of Adele H' 20 years earlier. Daniel Auteuil was also excellent as the unprepossessing but very intense and quick-thinking Henry. Virna Lisi, a sex symbol in her earlier film career, made a good villainess as Catherine. Most of the other principals seem to have been chosen for their looks by rent-an-ego casting though Jean-Huges Anglade was suitably pathetic as the doomed King Charles.
The rather claustrophobic sets brought home the medieval lack of privacy, even (perhaps especially) in royal palaces the old Louvre was about as spacious as the loo. The film fades a bit in the second half, but it's still not a bad story, if at times a bit difficult to follow. I have to say I found `Elizabeth' more interesting and a lot less bloody. Anyway, `Margo' is very French, and not to be judged by Hollywood standards (whatever they are).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Alexandre Dumas brought an effortless narrative mastery, in-depth human
portraiture, and an uncanny ability to reanimate the past... His novels
are work of marvelous intelligence and pure enchantment, adventures for
both the heart and mind...
'Queen Margot' gives a magnificent description, pulsating with life, of the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew and the events of the succeeding years, closing with the death of King of France, Charles IX... The motion picture shows how religion was certainly the basis for warfare, and delves into conspiracies, ruthless murders and cover-ups, betrayal, seduction and instigation to incest...
'Queen Margot' offers with plenty of blood the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, as it came to be known, destroying an entire generation of Huguenot leadership, while also creates shrewd characterization, complex plot evolution, and acute political and social insight...
France was the "first daughter of the church" and its king, the "most Christian King", and no one could imagine life any other way... One faith, one law, one king. This traditional saying gives some indication of how the state, society, and religion were all bound up together in people's minds and experience... The religious wars began with overt hostilities in 1562 and lasted until the Edict of Nantes in 1598...
The film opens in 1572...
Admiral De Coligny, now the chief military leader of the Huguenots, has gained the king's trust and is trying to lead him into a dangerous war against Catholic Spain... The king's brothers Dukes of Anjou and Alençon and their ally, the young Duke De Guise, are opposed to Coligny and his influence...
In an attempt to regain her power and take credit for bringing peace, the Queen-Mother began negotiations to marry her lovely daughter Marguerite to Henry of Bourbon, "first prince of the blood," the next in line for the French throne...
However, while this arrangement is intended to secure peace between the rival religious factions, it is a marriage of convenience only, a union of Protestant and Catholic, at a time when the political enmity of the two religions was intense and bitter... The common people felt no such harmony, and tensions grew in the towns and countryside..
Isabelle Adjani is exquisite as Marguerite De Valois, the most beautiful woman in the French court... Black hair, fine complexion, voluptuous eyes, a red and lovely mouth, a graceful neck, an enchanting figure scarcely twenty, the much 'loved,' even by her three brothers... Margot lives in magnificent style, free to pursue her amours...
Daniel Auteuil is very good as Henri of Navarre, the uneasy leader of the Huguenot, or Protestant party, who is threatened on every side by three brothersthe king, and the dukes of Anjou and d'Alençon, by their mother, and the Duke of Guise... Henry had a quality which, like lightning, shone most brightly in moments of storm and gloom...
Virna Lisi is dictatorial, unscrupulous, calculating, and crafty as Catherine De Medici, the Queen-Mother, the most influential personalities of the Wars of Religion... With unrestrained violenceher eyes, on occasion, could be at once glassy and penetrating...
With Jean-Hugues Anglade as the pale face young king, Vincent Perez as the ill-fated lover, Pascal Greggory as Catherine's favorite son, Asia Argento as the delicately beautiful baroness, 'Queen Margot' received nominations for Best Foreign Language Film from the Golden Globes and for Best Costume Design from the Academy Awards... Cannes Film Festival bestowed the award for Best Actress to Virna Lisi... The Jury Prize was given to director, Patrice Chéreau..
I don't pretend to know the minutiae of the historical record, but it
was Definitely Not Dumas, or I lost it all in the English translations!
Like many others I've always been fascinated by this episode in French
history, a turbulent and savagely intolerant period and not only in
France, but 1572 is yet another year that went down in infamy. This
film portrays the complicated machinations performed by Catherine de
Medici and her cohorts in furthering her Catholic ambitions for her
country and debauched family against the perceived threat of dour
Protestantism, and centred around the St. Bartholomew Day Massacre.
It's the rather beautiful Isabelle Adjani's stunning performance as Queen Margot that can leave you as breathless as she often is in the film, without her it would have been a much poorer film. She seemed to live the part, with every emotion imaginable on display. Would French breathlessness, or those huge rustling dresses sound as good dubbed into English?! On the other hand the rest of the cast are superb in their roles too, but especially Daniel Auteuil as Henri de Navarre and Jean Hugues Anglade as Charles IX, making them both extremely believable sympathetic characters when they weren't. The bloodbath and the anarchy of the Massacre and aftermath is vividly presented we are not spared a single thing in the entire film, all manner of violence and depravity is non-gratuitously displayed. It's impossible to convey a part of what happens in this film the same as it must have been impossible for the film to convey a fraction of what happened in that era too: it really is a must-see. I've seen it a number of times now since 1994 and I find something new I hadn't spotted before every time. It's a film that can make you realise (if you didn't before) that millions of ordinary folk all around the world could and still can believe in such arrant religious nonsense to the point of committing multiple ghastly murders in the name of empty air.
Apart from all that, it's a beautifully crafted film, the best of its kind there's ever been.
"Queen Margot" is a French epic drama which tells of the political forces at work in France at the time of the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre which signaled the beginning of the end of the "religious wars" raging in France in the early to mid 16th century. Queen Margot (Adjani) is at the center of this maelstrom of wickedness and treachery which looks at everything from poison lip rouge to a bloody holocaust. An elaborate award winning production, "Queen Margot" presents its history realistically with no clear sense of good or evil - unlike "Braveheart", for example - with countless extras, spectacular costuming, and artistry in cinematography. Well worth its 2.5 hour run, this dark film, based on the novel by A. Dumas, is lacking in the didactic and will be difficult to follow for all but those with historical knowledge of the place and time. A little research prior to watching the film can go a long way toward understanding the complexities of the story.
Historic epics don't come more epic than this effort from France. It isn't
done justice on the small screen, but in the cinema, one can really
appreciate the monumental scale of this film. Its source is the novel by
Alexandre Dumas about historical events in 16th Century Paris, concerning
the Catholic monarchy's attempts to remove the threat of the Huguenot
Protestants, culminating in the St Bartholemew's Day massacre of the
Heguenots in 1572. In particular, the film focuses on the exploitation of
Margot, the sister of the King of France, by her mother Catherine di Medici
(the real power behind the throne)to achieve these ends.
Make no mistakes, this film is bathed in blood. The aftermath of the massacre is particularly hard to swallow. However, the caliber of film making here is suburb. The production is quite stunning, in particular Moidel Bickel's excellent costumes. Verna Lisi, as Catherine di Medici, is in top form, cool and magnificent as the power broker Queen Mother. Isabelle Adjani, France's answer to Meryl Streep, has the most wonderful and expressive face, with enormous eyes that radiate the emotions of this complex character.
This film is long, tough going and (shock/horror) it has subtitles! Don't be so easily put off, as this is a film truly worth seeing.
The St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre---not exactly a subject the average
person knows much about these days. But, a VERY important part of
French and European history nonetheless. The history teacher in me will
now BRIEFLY take over: Like England, there was a lot of tension between
the Protestants (Hugenots) and Catholics during the 16th century.
However, unlike Henry VIII's ultimate decision to break from the
Catholic Church, the French pretty much wiped out the Hugenots--those
who were not killed fled abroad. Up until St. Bart's Day, there had
been tension but eventually the king granted religious freedom to all.
This was not to last, as a conspiracy was hatched and on St. Bart's
Day, thousands of Hugenots were murdered. To commemorate this event,
the Pope issued a special medallion and ordered a celebration. Not
exactly one of the finer moments in human history.
The movie concerns the machinations leading up to the event as well as portraying the massacre and the after effects. I'm not going to say more, as I don't want to spoil it for the viewer. However, I will say that the writing, acting and pacing of this film were excellent and kept my attention throughout. This fictionalized account of this true-life tragedy is compelling.
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