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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
Letting yourself be submerged by the visual aspects of this subtle but not so fast movie is the key to its understanding. The images are rich and varied; the atmosphere is deep in history if not somewhat accurate at least attempts to recreate wonderfully the ambiance, decadence and glory that was France during the Reign of Louis XIV. Those who love history will love this movie, not for its content, but for its exuberance and unashamed panache.
I will not attempt to decipher the story line, the words in itself are what is important here. Whether the story is accurate or not or whether is fact or fiction or whose point of view is it, is irrelevant, you should make your own conclusion. The most important aspect for me is its own subtlety, seeing its hidden little treasures in its rich tapestry of images and symbolism was the most fun, also its unassuming little gems of wisdom about human nature here and there, gave enough impulse to the story to keep it interesting, Yes! This is not `The Three Musketeers' for those looking for action and Yes! This is not `Cyrano' either for those looking for the power and poetry of the prose.
What these characters do is not as important as how they do it, specially during those days of very conventional and strict etiquette, their seemingly detached attitude is only a reflection of their hidden emotions as much as their blind following of the rules imposed by a necessary tyrant. Only then we come to understand that this was only a clever device that Louis XIV created to maintain all of these rich dilettante aristocrats busy with life at court to keep them away from the real world and the real politics thus providing him with absolute power (This was his glory not Versailles).
I find that if we look carefully under the varnish and the gold, they were not too far from the farce and ridicule that we see on today's society. When we look around, the music, the clothes and the places might be different, but the treachery, pettiness, envy, jealousy, hunger for power and those who utilize it for their own purposes are still the same. If anything, this movie is a mirror of society at is very worst and best, and a great point of reference to look at ourselves as we were and as we presently are. Those who pretend that this story is just a boring fantasy of the past of some fertile imagination dressed up in pretty costumes with some period music; they need a better set of glasses than an eye doctor can normally prescribe. Those with the sensitivity to appreciate what is not obvious and can read between the lines will be ready for a treat.
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