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In 1671, with war brewing with Holland, a penniless prince invites Louis XIV to three days of festivities at a chateau in Chantilly. The prince wants a commission as a general, so the extravagances are to impress the king. In charge of all is the steward, Vatel, a man of honor, talent, and low birth. The prince is craven in his longing for stature: no task is too menial or dishonorable for him to give Vatel. While Vatel tries to sustain dignity, he finds himself attracted to Anne de Montausier, the king's newest mistress. In Vatel, she finds someone who's authentic, living out his principles within the casual cruelties of court politics. Can the two of them escape unscathed? Written by
Vatel, perhaps a weak title to a spectacular film; it recreates the excesses of the French court in its pre-off-with-their-heads-phase. In order to escape bankruptcy, the gout afflicted Viscount must entertain the King so sumptuously and so entreatingly, that the King may commission a war with Holland, thereby paying the Viscount's debts. To keep the King and his courtiers entertained, it was no small thing, so the entire countryside is enlisted in the feasts and entertainment. None will be paid unless the banquets are a success. Louis' entourage of Queen, mistresses, and waggish cavaliers run riot through the festivities. The fete is essentially an Olympic opening parade that goes on for three days in dazzling costume orchestrated by one great artist, the Viscount's steward, Vatel.
Vatel orchestrates the extravaganzas and falls for Uma Thurman, the King's new mistress. She is not yet the jaded courtesan and sees greatness in Vatel's can-do veneer. Indeed, Vatel is a man of integrity, denying the King's pedophile brother a young kitchen boy at the risk of his life. Vatel swats away meddling noblemen and women for the entire feast while making love to Thurman, star-crossed lovers though they are. Gerard Depardieu is brilliant even with his modest grasp of English.
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