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Sometimes with movie distribution, as with humour, timing is everything. Patrice Leconte's Ridicule is a long way from the best work from almost anyone involved, yet still proved a major art-house success outside France, picking up Oscar and Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Film, winning a BAFTA as well as a nomination for the Palme D'Or at Cannes and winning four Cesars, including Best Film and Best Director, as well as another eight nominations in France itself. All of which leaves you with the suspicion that it couldn't have been up against much competition that year. It's certainly not a bad film, but at times it's almost as slight as its subject the rules of wit and ridicule at the Court of Versailles under King Louis XVI, where you live or die by the readiness of your wit and where a single misstep can cast you into oblivion. Charles Berling is the impoverished minor aristocrat seeking royal patronage for a drainage project to stop his peasants from dropping like flies only to discover that the only way to get near to the King in a world where wit opens any door is to demonstrate a sharper and more malicious tongue than those around him. Tutored in the rules of engagement by Jean Rochefort's friendly courtier and both championed and checked by Fanny Ardant's court predator, he briefly finds himself a sensation in a world where honesty and wit are so rarely combined, only to find himself heading for a fall.
While it's a cut above the usual dry costume drama and passes the time more than pleasantly enough, it never quite escapes the feeling of a safe and predictable morality tale while at times the wit could be sharper and the venom more prominent. There are some fine good moments and Ardant gets a great screen entrance, her servants blowing powder over her naked body, but at the end of the day it manages to be a curious mixture of both a mildly satisfying diversion and slightly less than the sum of its parts. Very much like the Court of Versailles itself Whereas Miramax's Region 1 DVD is bare-bones, Second Sight's UK PAL DVD boasts a fine 2.35:1 widescreen transfer as well as a good 52-minute documentary on the making of the film.
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