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"Vatel" is a French period film with Depardieu as the title
character, a master steward under the crown of King Louis
XIV whose job it is to put on feasts and spectacles for
pleasures of royalty. Typical of director Joffe, the film
peers deep into the character of Vatel, around whom swirl
politicking and wickedness, with such depth and dimension
to make the plot of secondary importance. Replete with
sumptuous sets, elegant costuming, and epicurean delights,
the film fills the eye and whets the palate as few films
while it paints a portrait of a sensitive and honorable
who makes the supreme sacrifice for dignity.
A superb watch for those into period films painted with delicate brush strokes and subtle nuances.
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.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Any true gourmand knows the story of Vatel -- and that he died for his art. I thought it impressively well-filmed and quite stunning. I didn't care that this wasn't Depardieu's best film or that it wasn't that well-acted. The visuals alone were worth the price of admission. It is sad that Tom Stoppard disappointed with dialogue that could have been far more compelling but I still didn't care. I am just happy to have a French Food Movie and see the history of Chantilly Cream!
Vatel was not a bad movie, in fact it was worth viewing. If it were not a true story you could argue it was too calm and had too little excitement for the people who seek diversion entertainment. However, since it is a true story, about a royal cook and what he had to go through just to do his art it becomes very interesting. Another good theme was the disfunctionality of the royals and how the servants interacted with these powerful people (Vatel tried not to as much as possible). I particularly liked the part where Vatel said "no thank you" so philosophically to a nobleman's perverted request that Vatel won him over as a friend through respect. If you like brinkmanship and maneuvering, this movie has it, be it subtle.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A terrific script, one which appears to be concerned with class imprisonment but is far more clever. The key notion here is self-reference.
Vatel is a producer of lush entertainments, presented to us by -- a producer of lush entertainments. Though only the translation is by Stoppard, this is the most Stoppardian of notions: to amuse us with a story about people just as greedy as ourselves for luxurious entertainment -- and to please while condemning.
The story goes farther into the truth: all entertainers are slaves, prostitutes. The game for an artist is one of drawing lines between that slavery and the noble joys of creation. Vatel does what he does because his obnoxious sponsors provide him the means to do what he desires. That's all, or not all because he needs the applause.
Also in Stoppardian fashion, we have Roth (Guildenstern , Mitchel, Vincent) there to tell us the terrible truth about ourselves. The plot involves competing attentions to Uma's character -- essentially a sweet whore with canaries -- and Vatel, the grand coordinator of revels. He is pulled by the King and his present employer as well as sexually by the King's brother. He wins the admiration (and protection) of that brother in refusing his advances by noting their common perversion in the quest for perfection.
How perfect for this film to be lacking the salt of engaging drama, that excuse we normally give for watching. How perfect that we collectively reject it because it is merely beautiful.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This bleak, sad tragedy died a quick death at the box office. I always thought it was such a powerful film. The movie consists of two parallel stories Thurman's and Vatel's. Along the way we are treated to what we, as Americans, never had the misfortune of enduring. Being a peasant, with no rights, treated cruelly by these reptiles with titles. I love the scene of the woman who yells at King Louis and gets nearly beaten to death for her trouble. Vatel's noble is hosting a great festival through which he hopes to get that lusted after military commission. Vatel is his great master of ceremonies making sure the food and pageantry ingratiates and wins the favor of King Louis of France. The artistry of Vatel's culinary and artistic creations is worth owning the movie for. Vatel encounters Thurman who has entered the great contest for the King's bed favors with Roth as his Valet between the sheets. As the movie begins, Roth is making sure the women are spatially located appropriately to their current standings in the pecking order, no pun intended. Uma gently tries to disabuse Vatel of his quixotic and childish belief that his master values him above all things. Vatel gets angry and storms off at such a suggestion, what effrontery!
As the movie progresses, Vatel and Thurman are bathed in the utter depravities of these misnomered ' nobilities.' Vatel has to shield a kitchen boy from the King's pedophile brother who has decided he would like to enjoy him. Vatel comes very close to being killed for this and then has to talk his way out of taking the boy's place. Uma gets to see how cruel and ruthless the bed competition is with Roth waiting, hat under the bed, to catch any scraps that he might enjoy when the King tires of the woman of the week. The movie builds to a tragic climax when Vatel is lost as a prize in a card game to King Louis. He kills himself rather than be shipped with the luggage to Paris. He writes a heartbreaking letter to Uma telling her she was right and he was but a slave all the time: a piece of equipment. The movie closes with Uma leaving these ghastly beasts far behind her. A more sad, tragic tale other than Joffe's other movie, The Mission, you will never watch.
I recommend the movie for its acting, writing and direction but above this for a great taste of what it was like to be a peasant. The machinations in both stories, Vatel's and Uma's, convey such cruelty and depravity of these alleged nobility. Vatel's whose life is pleasing his noble master who treats him like a salad bowl he has grown tired of. When you behold the artistry of Vatel, his nobility in protecting the little boy, and the despicable reprobates playing around with peasants lives as if they were cards on a table, well, it is painful but quite educative. I love the movie for it is like a time machine back to a world we never lived in. Roth is such a utter shameless Machiavellian miscreant here even approaching his character in Rob Roy. He uses Uma's sleeping with Vatel to blackmail her into his bed. A wonderful lesson in misanthropy that both lead characters justifiably flee from, Vatel existentially through suicide and Uma by leaving them behind. An Underrated Movie.
The film's production value is in league with the best sci-fi films; yet it was a legit piece about European Court in the 17th Century and the impact of the monarchical system of government on love, money, culture and politics. If you've ever experienced an unrequited or forbidden (not illicit) love, you'll empathize with the plight of François Vatel, played by Gérard Depardieu, whose performance is characteristically excellent. The movie's historical elements offer a surprising look at the available technology, even if the applications were anticipated. The love story is not original (stations interfere with true, but conflicted, love), but the context and visual surroundings -- and the fact that it is historically based -- add an unexpected dimension to the viewing, which is best appreciated on a large screen.
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.
I simply never get enough of this film. It's one of the few that I have
to re-watch, every so often.
Now, one of the things that struck me most strongly was the fact of Vatel and Anne's goodness -- this, in spite of where Louis' example might have led them -- with the people who worked with them.
The scenes with Vatel and Colin; with Anne and Louise... especially the one where Louise drops the vase that Vatel sent to Anne (and Anne says "It's alright, Louise... it's alright") ... these are made almost painfully beautiful by the contrasting scenes with the aristocrats running amok.
But, Vatel's words come back to me here: "Harmony and Contrast -- All beauty comes from those two things".
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