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Although I don't want to write a tribute to Bernard Giraudeau with this review, I have to say that his death three days ago (on July 17, 2010) has affected me and it is not without some afterthoughts that I write this. One of the leads of French cinema in the 1980s, Bernard Giraudeau was never satisfied with his persona on screen: cast as a seducer in his first films, he later played more tortured characters. Jean-François de La Plaine, the main character of "Les caprices d'un fleuve", belongs to this category and is certainly a complex one. In 1786, after a duel, this French aristocrat is exiled to a French colony in West Africa on the banks of the Senegal river. There, as governor, he presides over a thriving slave trade. He takes a Mulatto woman as his lover and slowly awakens to love for a young local girl named Amélie.
Giraudeau, an actor/director/writer noted for his humanism, apparently wanted to tell a sort of philosophical tale. Indeed, there is a parallel between the distant tumults of the French revolution and its aftermath and La Plaine's experiences in Africa, as he moves from a world where slavery and privileges go unquestioned to wider horizons; yet as France is in turmoil, time seems to stand still on the coast of Senegal. Giraudeau had definitely something to say on the color of love and prejudice. His film conveys nicely his message, but not always in the best way. On the positive side, "Les caprices..." has a good and concerned supportive cast (after shooting this film, Richard Bohringer took the Senegalese citizenship), a sumptuous cinematography and a beautiful score, a superb mix between 18th century music and African music. But unfortunately the weak characterization and the languid pace turn the film into a rather cold piece of work, when this universal story should have been more touching and moving to allow the viewer to reflect on human condition. In spite of a good and original script, I have to say that Giraudeau did not fully attain his goal. However, "Les caprices..." is worth watching, at least for some valuable lessons in History.
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