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One of the obsessive speculations in American history is whether Thomas Jefferson, in the years before he became president, had an affair with (and fathered a child with) his 15-year-old slave Sally Hemings. JEFFERSON IN PARIS follows Jefferson to France (as the U.S. ambassador to the court of Louis XVI), following the death of his wife his friendships and flirtations with the French, his relationship with his daughters and slaves from home (especially Sally), against the backdrop of the beginning of the French Revolution. Written by
Michael C. Berch <firstname.lastname@example.org>
...and the old one collapsing.How tempting!Jefferson,who epitomizes democracy and freedom visiting the old wreck,France on the eve of revolution.
Ivory's precedent works were masterpieces (Howards end and remnants of the day)but they took place in England and they were not really historical,even if "remnants" made a fine blend of the historical background with the storybook elements.When it comes to history,and mainly French history,all we get here is a full load of clichés:Marie-Antoinette, playing with her flock of sheep,Doctor Guillotin,showing his new machine (he used to say that the condemned person could feel a nice fresh sensation before dying!),La Fayette and his wife Adrienne,and of course,the de rigueur lines (c'est une révolte?Non sire,c'est une révolution").The only daring gesture,so to speak,is the puppet theater,but even that was already in Ettore Scola's "la nuit de Varennes",(1982)with much more finesse,at that.A lot of French actors appear,which is the least Ivory could do but they are not always well cast:Michel Lonsdale is a very competent one,but he's too old to be a credible king (64 when Louis XVI was about 30!)Charlotte de Turckheim is an ugly Marie-Antoinette and some scenes in which she appears ,probably influenced by "Fellini-Casanova" (1977),do not help. This is Jean-Pierre Aumont's farewell to the screen (he was in Carné's "hotel du nord" in 1938!)in a very small part:I thought he was playing Mirabeau,but actually it's an obscure D'Hancarville.Lambert Wilson ,on the other hand,is a good choice for La Fayette,but h,most of the time,he's reduced to a walk-on.
As for the American side of the story,of course,Ivory focuses on slavery,and deservedly so.The French cannot understand that a country so in love with freedom could approve of such a thing.But it finally boils down to Nolte-and-black babe affair and it's overlong and tedious.The first scene between Jefferson and the abbess promised great things.But it's a disappointment when they meet again towards the end.
All in all,this is a lavish production,which is sometimes entertaining,but which lacks epic strength and has missed its date with
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