A superb watch for those into period films painted with delicate brush strokes and subtle nuances.
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A superb watch for those into period films painted with delicate brush strokes and subtle nuances.
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.
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.
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
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.
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".
Vatel understandably focuses on one single character, Francois Vatel. To me, everything else in the film seems to be subplots or minor characters. Much time is spent on portraying Vatel as a hardworking, bright and noble person. He even knows his subordinates' life history by heart! Vatel's noble virtues contrasts with the corrupted mortals of high social status. The film's dark theme is sometimes overshadowed by the merry atmosphere of the feast. The extravagant sets and amazing costumes are very dazzling. The film is worth the watch just to see the feast scene!
First, the acting. Uma Thurman appears to be totally miscast in the role of Vatel's secret admirer, and her performance is dull, emotionless and sometimes irritating. By contrast Gérard Depardieu, a great acting talent, is wasted completely. All he is required to do is walk about the sets barking out orders to his servants and occasionally looking a bit miffed when one of the aristocracy gets his gander up. One suspects that he has already realised that the film is a turkey and so feels no enthusiasm to waste his energies trying to lift the film out of the pit of mediocrity in which it is well and truly lodged. And one can hardly blame him.
The film's only saving grace - indeed the only reason for seeing the film at all - is the magnificent depiction of the royal entertainment designed by Vatel. The scale of the activities is quite breathtaking, brilliantly executed, and offers an interesting insight into the life of the royal court at this time in history. Unfortunately, we are not allowed to enjoy the legendary fireworks scene because a servant is brutally and explicity killed in the process. This is probably the one true great moment in the film, but it seems to get in the way of the one piece of entertainment on offer to us and the tragic impact is lost completely.
On balance, it is the ending that is the greatest disappointment. This should be a deeply moving and tragic finale, but it fails completely to have any effect. The film just loses momentum after the fireworks scene and gradually shrivels up to nothing. It looks as if the entire cast and production team gave up and went home early. The final scenes lack any emotional impact or integrity and overall the film appears shallow and insubstantial.
A totally wasted opportunity.
The Sun King is featured but he pales into insignificance ,which is a shame all the same!His brother is first shown as a wicked perverse man (in the French tradition:for that matter,take a look at the "Angélique "series)when the historians describe him as an admittedly gay man but a human being who was courageous,generous with the vanquished at war,and finally gentle(see "Monsieur,frère du roi" by Philippe Erlanger).At least his last line shows his real nature but it's too little too late.
But the biggest bomb is Tim Roth's Lauzun!The duc de Lauzun was a Gascon ,who was always cracking jokes ,a bon vivant,fond of women ,so insolent that he was finally sent to the Pignerol jail where he met again Vatel's former master,Nicolas Fouquet -the movie briefly hints at him-.Tim Roth's sullen face is by no means duc de Lauzun,this joker who would marry the king 's cousin ,la grande Mademoiselle,a spinster,for her dough:oddly this colorful dowager does not appear at all.Montespan,La Vallière do,but they do walk-on parts.(Only one line each:Montespan:"I'm coming up" Vallière:'I'm coming down",the only touch of humor in the whole movie) Queen Marie-Therèse is not well portrayed either:she was rather ugly,gauche and self-effacing.Here she seems to outshine Montespan,which is rather odd!
That the film was spoken in English was better then it would be French spoken. The film was not a high-flyer but was not awful. We can remember it as one of the few historical films of Mr. Jouffé.
Rating: 7/10 or ** 1/2 out of ****
Depardieu is a brilliant Vatel and his impressive talent, his artistic force are reflected in acting. But Vatel was not a victim of hypocrite nobles, of time and of his social origins. The last gesture was not only result of duty conscience. And he was not a great artist in a fragile domain.
His job was his life. The parties, the food, the organization of a entire show was essence of an touching existence and reflection of the time's glory. This sophisticated art to be crux of a world was secret ingredient of a special moral victory. So, Vatel was more than a small character, builder of little extravagant shows, toy of aristocracy. His life, his death was ineffable form of sacrifice for a special gift: art to be yourself, part and builder of dream, heart of miracle and desire.
Joffé managed to make the audience relive the events. The environments, the locations for filming, the costumes, the music, everything was thought out and analyzed carefully to reproduce the atmosphere of the time, so we must congratulate this effort for historical accuracy, which even received a nomination for the Oscar for Best Art Direction. The actors met well with their roles. The script also works in interesting ways, including some situations where we glimpse the contrast (and even shock) of the two worlds of seventeenth-century France: the richness and unparalleled luxury of the court and the absolute misery of the common people. Also positive note for the soundtrack of Enio Morricone, although not one of his best-known or most interesting compositions.
The movie was mildly interesting as it describes (what I call) the "Martha Stewart" of 17th Century France, Francois Vatel. However, it just isn't interesting enough and I got bored very easily and very quickly. What saved this film was Gerard Depardieu's performance as the title character who organizes all the interior decorating, shows, and meals prepared for the coming of King Louis XIV to a chateau in Chantilly.
Uma Thurman's performance as Vatel's love interest is well, below mediocre. I'd much rather watch paint dry or a pair of snails drag-race.
Above all, I give this 2 out of five stars. The lush atomosphere also manages to save the film from a 1 star rating by me.
Who cares whether Vatel's boss or some other moron gets to fight the king's war? Plus, who wants to watch Uma Thurman's wooden acting? She and Depardieu have no chemistry simply because she is a non-reactive agent in Chemistry's Actors' Periodic Table.