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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
Roland Joffe's "Vatel" does something few movies can do these days: it takes you to a place you've never been before.
The French made film has Louie XIV visiting a poor province ruled by an improverished prince, who must put on spectacular entertainment fit for the Sun King. There's more than the King's time at stake here, though, for Louie wants the prince to lead his army, should France go to war with Holland, and the Prince desperately needs Louie's financial help, to save his nearly brankrupt province.
Enter the prince's chief steward, Vatel, played by Gerard Depardiue. A combination French chief extraordinaire and showman supreme, he not only serves up unbelieveable meals, but also puts on shows that would out do James Cameron, and does it on a much smaller budget. From pop up lawn decorations to fire works extravaganzas that would shame the Chinese, Vatel displays a genius for spectacle that will literally leave you breathless.
"Vatel" the movie includes lots of court intrigue and some fine acting from those carrying it out. Deparidieu delivers an unexpected performance as Vatel. Rather than the explosive, temperamental French chief, he plays this 17th century showman as a harried administrator who is trying keep a lot of balls in the air at the same time he must navigate the tricky waters of French politics. It's an understated performance in which much of what is going on is behind his eyes (and probably in his stomach ulcers) rather than on the surface.
His protagonists are Julian Sands as the petulant,devious King and Tim Roth as the chief court intriguer, kind of an early version of a political advance man. Uma Thurman is a lady in waiting who has caught all three men's eyes.
All are good, but what sets "Vatel" off is the visuals which give you a look at spectacle the likes of which this writer had never before seen. This film should walk away with all the set design, costume design and effects Oscars hands down. It is one of the most incredible visual experiences in film history. See it in the theaters, though, and not squashed into a TV screen.
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